Haith: Tigers weren't tough enough in first loss
Missouri did not figure to remain undefeated, but the Tigers also did not want to crash from that perch quite the way they did with a 75-59 setback at Kansas State on Jan. 7.
"As a coach, you don't ever want to feel like you just got your butts kicked. And they kicked our butts," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "If you're in this game, you compete, and that's part of it. We don't take those things very lightly."
Certainly the Tigers will know not to from this point forward. A potential weakness -- Missouri's ability to hang with bigger opponents -- was exposed at Kansas State.
Not only were the Tigers were pounded 39-25 on the glass by the Wildcats, but they also were hurt on drives to the bucket. The Missouri guards are exceptional at penetration, yet the Wildcats were often there underneath to swat away attempts, registering seven blocks.
Those issues could persist in Big 12 play, but the Tigers must remain comfortable knowing the problems were solved throughout nonconference play.
Missouri is now facing, perhaps, the crossroads of its season. A year ago, the Tigers also got off to a 14-1 start, yet went 9-10 the rest of the way with an 8-8 finish in the Big 12. Avoiding such a letdown will require a tougher mindset on the road.
"We've got to play tougher," Haith said. "You win on the road, you've got to be tough. You've got to have a little moxie about you."
Ratliffe's foul trouble was huge problem against K-State
Missouri has found ways most of the season to counter the height disadvantage it often faces while starting a four-guard lineup. It hurts, however, when F Ricardo Ratliffe, the one big man in the rotation, gets into foul trouble, which he did early in the Jan. 7 loss at Kansas State.
"With Ricardo on the floor, it would have helped us out," said G Marcus Denmon. With Ratliffe limited to 14 minutes, he provided two points and one rebound in the 75-59 defeat. Denmon, who stands 6-foot-3, led the Tigers with six boards, as Missouri was outrebounded 39-25.
--The good news for Missouri is the 14-0 breakout to begin the season left the Tigers as one of just four undefeated teams in Division I. The bad news is the loss at Kansas State was the eighth for Missouri in its last nine Big 12 road games. Among the tougher trips has been the visit to Kansas State, where the Tigers lost for the eighth straight time, a streak that will not change in the foreseeable future with Missouri moving into the SEC next season.
--Missouri remained the Big 12 leader in scoring (84.4 ppg through Jan. 8), scoring margin (plus-22.5) and field-goal percentage (.510) following the defeat at Kansas State, though none of those marks looked conceivable when the Tigers got off to a 5-for-22 start from the field through the first half. Missouri was the only team in the conference making at least half of its attempts.
BY THE NUMBERS: 32.7 percent -- Missouri's shooting accuracy in the loss at Kansas State. The Tigers entered with a season average of 51 percent.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is hard to get your defense going when you are not scoring. Even though we were not scoring (against Kansas State), we still want to try and focus in on stops on the defensive end. We could not get rebounds or stops." -- Missouri G Marcus Denmon.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
at Iowa State, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: The Cyclones rate as the biggest surprise in the Big 12, off to a 2-0 start after finishing last in the league with a 3-13 mark last season. F Royce White, a Minnesota transfer, is coming off a triple-double in a Jan. 7 win at Texas A&M, the first Big 12 road win for second-year Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg. G Chris Allen (formerly of Michigan State) runs the point, and G Chris Babb (formerly of Penn State) is a deadly outside threat.
vs. Texas, Jan. 14
KEY MATCHUPS: The Longhorns field the youngest lineup in the Big 12, so capitalizing on that youth and attempting to pester Texas defensively will be key. Missouri has the guards to do just that, though G Myck Kabongo is considered a skilled point for Texas, even though he is only a freshman. G J'Covan Brown was the only experienced player to return for the Longhorns, and he is a streaky shooter.
FUTURES MARKET: The biggest disappointment for Missouri coming out of its first loss of the season was the inability to match Kansas State's intensity. That will be a problem as long as F Ricardo Ratliffe, an overworked big man, is hounded by foul problems. It is imperative that Ratliffe stay in games, but other opponents are going to go after the only big in the Tigers' starting five. Ratliffe must show some restraint and keep from getting baited into mixing it up inside. He was whistled for a technical foul in the opening minutes of the second half at Kansas State.
--Senior G Kim English posted 23 points and nine rebounds as Missouri opened Big 12 play with an 87-49 rout of Oklahoma. It was the sixth time in seven games English scored in double figures, though he managed just eight points at Kansas State.
--Senior F Ricardo Ratliffe led the nation with a .767 shooting percentage through Jan. 8 after making the only shot he attempted while playing just 14 minutes because of foul trouble against Kansas State.
--Sophomore G Phil Pressey had a string of nine straight games with five assists snapped when he registered just three assists at Kansas State. The streak for Pressey was the best in Missouri history, topping a string of seven such games by Anthony Peeler in 1989-90.