The Missouri-North Florida game wasn’t televised in Chicago, but I was able to find a feed online. There was no audio and I was also watching the Northwestern-Illinois football game, so it wasn’t real easy to follow the action. However, one of the new Tigers did make an impression.
The final score was Missouri 96, North Florida 58. If ever there was a final score that revealed less about how a game unfolded, this was it. Mizzou (No. 24 at kenpom.com) improved to 2-0 and both of its wins have been more peculiar than remarkable. The opener was Thursday’s uninspired 66-61 win over No. 246 Western Illinois, a game in which not a single Tiger reached double figures in scoring. I don’t remember seeing that happen to a winning team since I played in 24-minute games in junior high.
On Saturday, the Tigers struggled in the middle part of their game against the 270th-ranked Ospreys. Yes–Ospreys. I had to look this up, but an osprey is a “fish-eating bird of prey.” North Florida, which hails out of the Atlantic Sun and is in its 5th season as a DI program, won at Wyoming earlier in the week and while the Cowboys (whom the Tigers play on Tuesday) aren’t any great shakes, it’s still a road win against a DI school. The Ospreys committed 21 turnovers in the first half against Missouri’s pressure defense and trailed by 10 at the break, 41-31, even though the Tigers didn’t shoot the ball well.
North Florida scored the first eight points of the second half, closing within two, but it was all Mizzou after that. The Tigers outscored the Ospreys 55-19 the rest of the way. North Florida scored its last point on a free throw at the 7:50 mark. Missouri finished the game on a 26-0 run. As I mentioned, the final score might match up with what you expected before the game, it doesn’t exactly reveal how the contest unfolded. However, Mizzou’s system is built to wear down opponents, so perhaps this was simply an extreme example of that plan being executed to perfection. North Florida finished with a Mizzou Arena record 34 turnovers.
Missouri is breaking in a new starting backcourt in Kansas City natives Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon, both of whom were key parts of last year’s rotation playing behind senior starters J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor. It’s not a big backcourt, but is quick and they both have combo guard skills. They’re going to be better offensively than the former TnT backcourt, but against North Florida, they looked like they have a way to go on defense. Sure, there were all the forced turnovers, but the scrambling nature of Mizzou’s system requires defenders to find away to get back to spot-up shooters and contest jumpers. They didn’t do a good job of that for most of Saturday’s game and until the Ospreys’ late-game collapse, North Florida was shooting a high percentage.
I didn’t get much of a read on Missouri’s trio of perimeter newcomers in brothers Matt and Phil Pressey nor Columbia native Ricky Kreklow. I was impressed by Juco transfer Ricardo Ratcliffe, regarded as possibly the best Juco player moving to DI this season. Ratcliffe is a strong, agile power forward who looks like he’s going to be the rebounder and interior scorer that the Tigers lacked. He’s versatile enough to step out and take jumpers but, in this game at least, didn’t appear to be a great leaper. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Missouri enters this season with lofty expectations, with an experienced and talented core returning and one of its best-ever recruiting classes coming in–a class which may get even stronger if skywalking wing Tony Mitchell is able to gain eligibility for the second semester. You can’t get much of a read in these early-season mismatches, but at the very least you can see that Ratcliffe is going to add the interior presence that Tiger fans longed for last season. Missouri again goes 10-deep with legitimate players, but it’s too soon to tell if the talent level has been upped enough to push the Tigers even beyond the successes of Mike Anderson’s last two teams.
Over the next couple of weeks, Missouri has a probable meeting with No. 66 Providence coming up in the Cancun Classic and will play No. 12 Georgetown at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Nov. 30. We’ll soon know how Anderson’s new mix is coming along.