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Texas Basketball vs. Missouri Preview

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The Horns will try to get back on track tonight facing an upstart Mizzou squad. The game tips off at 8:30 cst and will be televised by ESPN 2. HenryJames can find it approximately 20 clicks north of Telemundo.

Texas is coming off a disappointing loss vs. KSU, a game in which the Horns were down 17 points before rallying to tie the ballgame using a frenetic fullcourt pressure defense as the catalyst to force overtime. Interestingly, that's precisely the style of defense Mizzou will use. The Tigers like to pressure fullcourt to take advantage of their tremendous athletic depth, hoping to turn teams over or make them play faster than they want to before Mizzou's lack of interior size and depth can be exploited.

While Texas doesn't have the ideal guard personal to attack pressure, Texas' athletes seem to thrive in an open court setting as well, whether it be offensively or defensively. Perhaps it's because they are no longer thinking about making mistakes and instead just playing basketball, but regardless of the reason, the Horns will certainly be seeing a ton of up and down, open court tonight against a Mizzou team that defends the whole floor for 40 minutes. On to the personnel...

The Guards
Zaire Taylor 6-4 5.3 ppg 3.1 rpg 3.5 ast
J.T. Tiller 6-2 7.6 ppg 3.2 rpg 3.3 ast
Kim English 6-6 7.0 ppg 1.6 rpg 1.3 ast
Matt Lawrence 6-7 9.1 ppg 2.0 rpg .9 ast
Marcus Denmon 6-3 7.5 ppg 2.6 rpg 1.6 ast

The Tigers really play 5 guards as interchangeable parts in order to keep them fresh in their fullcourt pressure attack. All five play significant minutes, but Lawrence and Denmon come off the bench. Tiller is the guard that makes things go, and he's looking to penetrate and create for the talented forward duo of Carroll and Lyons. Tiller is a streaky shooter and a similar offensive player to Tory Jackson of Notre Dame. He's capable of hitting from deep, but he needs to knock down a couple before he's contested aggressively. First and foremost he wants to go by guys and create for teammates. Tiller is flanked by starters Taylor and English. Taylor is not much of threat offensively, and should be considered more of a fifth option on offense. Zaire is on the floor to pressure and harrass on defense and slash to the goal on offense. Kim English on the other hand is an accomplished shooter and must be treated as a threat on the perimeter. He'll usually check the opposing team's small forward or third guard.

The other two pseudo-starters Matt Lawrence and Marcus Denmon come off the bench after the opposing team has been worn down by Mizzou's pressure. Lawrence can flat out shoot the basketball, and he's looking for open looks against a tired defense. Denmon is another quick athlete that comes in to add depth. Marcus has attempted the second most 3's on the club, but he's hitting at just 34% from deep. I'd make him make one or two before I contest aggressively.

The Frontcourt
DeMarre Carroll 6-8 16.8 ppg 7.0 rpg 2.0 ast
Leo Lyons 6-9 14.8 ppg 5.9 rpg 2.0 ast

Mizzou's offensive attack all starts with this talented frontcourt tandem. DeMarre Carroll is a tireless player with a dynamic offensive game. He never stops working on either end of the floor, especially on the glass. But don't let his moxy fool you, dude can play. He's hitting 58% from the field because he gets layups, off the bounce, cutting to the bucket, or off of putbacks. He's a physical player that can carve out space and shoot over bigger defenders. The Texas frontcourt needs to bring a lunch pail to defend DeMarre. Carroll will occasionally force face up looks much like Gary Johnson and Damion James, and if I'm Barnes I'm asking my guys to entice these jumpers because it takes an offensive rebounder and Mizzou's best offensive player away from the bucket and out of the equation.

Leo Lyons is the other forward and he's looking to finish plays made in the open court via Mizzou's pressure, or get to the foul line in a halfcourt setting. Leo had 15 free throw attempts against Baylor's smallish frontcourt. On defense, Lyons can be prone to foul trouble which is a nightmare scenario for the Tigers considering their lack of quality size. For that reason, I wouldn't be surprised to see Texas try to establish Dexter Pittman down low at some point early in the game in an attempt to get Lyons on the bench.

Keys to the Game for Texas

Defeating Pressure
Mizzou will press make or miss, but they'll treat each scenario differently. On makes, the Tigers will pinch the middle of the court and force a pass to the corners for a quick trap. On misses, Mizzou will usually pick up fullcourt M2M and then vary their looks by playing straight up at times and jumping the basketball at others.

Miss or make, Texas needs to execute their press offense with all 5 players on the floor knowing their assignments in defeating pressure. On makes, the inbounder has to get the ball out of the net as quickly as possible and get the ball to someone on the move, hopefully a guard that can handle. On misses, rebounders must see that outlets are available to the guards. When the guards receive the ball, 2's, 3's, and even 4's must be aware of pressure and make themselves available to a trapped ballhandler. James and Johnson will be key in this game as they handle the ball well as 4 men.

Punish Pressure
Mizzou wants to force the following outcomes with their pressure in this order: a turnover, a bad shot, and finally a garden variety halfcourt possession. The Tigers will consider any of these outcomes as a win. Obviously, Texas needs to avoid the first two, but instead of getting bogged down in a halfcourt possession after breaking pressure, Texas needs to look for transition layups and open 3's in order to make the punish the press. Break the pressure and either get to the rim or hit a 3 in the secondary break. The more Texas scores the more likely Mizzou will relax its pressure. It may sound like an oversimplification, but some teams get content with just breaking a press and don't take the next to step which is to ring the bell.

Find a Way to Involve Pittman
The last thing Missouri wants is for Lyons to have to bang with Dexter Pittman. The Tiger pressure obviously protects Lyons to the extent it's an up and down contest, but there are options for Barnes if he wants to involve Dex for portions of the basketball game. One is to control tempo by zoning on defense. This might not be a bad idea for stretches anyway, because Mizzou isn't the best shooting team in the world. With the zone serving as matchup protection, Texas can play a smaller lineup that puts four ball handlers on the floor in addition to Dex. A lineup of Pittman surrounded by Abrams, Balbay, James, and Mason/Ward gives you 4 ballhandlers to control tempo, enough athleticism to have a fighting chance rebounding out of your zone, and the bonus of being able to pound Lyons with your big hoss. Mizzou is likely to zone right back, but that might not be all bad.

Press the Pressing Team
As Bob in Houston aptly mentioned, the old basketball adage is that teams that press don't like to be pressed. Old adages aside and given Texas' depth and personnel, I think that pressing Mizzou and then falling back into the zone mentioned above will do serious damage to the Tiger's rhthym, especially if Texas can vary pressure between quick and soft trapping. I'm not sure that Mizzou has been pressed by a team this year, and after looking at Mizzou's schedule so far, I don't see a team with near the depth or athleticism Texas has. KSU comes the closest and they were able to force 16 Tiger turnovers in an 88-72 win.

Overall it should be one of the more interesting games of the year if you're a Texas fan.

Oh by the way, sorry if I've resisted using cutting edge analysis that includes keys like limiting turnovers, taking good shots, and rebounding in this writeup. Texas certainly needs to do all three against Mizzou's pressure if they want to win this ballgame. I think the four keys listed above are somewhat under the surface and hopefully they'll be something you can watch for tonight.

Come back tonight and we'll talk about it.

Thoughts?

By the way here's a great preview from Gerry Hamilton of burntorangebeat.com. It's a pay site but these guys do tremendous work and a portion of the proceeds go towards buying a weave for Sailer Ripley.