To prepare for the epic Border War game Saturday, Feb. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse, Pat (PJ) and CJ break down the Tigers’ and Jayhawks’ starting lineup.
By Pat Strathman
Point guards: Tyshawn Taylor vs. Phil Pressey
The first time these two met, Taylor had the better stats, but Pressey did a solid job on defense against one of the Big 12’s best point guards. Taylor shot well from the field going 9 for 15, but struggled hanging onto the ball, coughing the ball up six times. Pressey didn’t do anything offensively, only scoring two points in the first meeting. Don’t expect the same results. Before the Kansas State loss, Pressey’s three point shot finally fell against Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor, making seven of his 11 attempts from behind the arc. Pressey will play a huge role in Missouri’s success in Allen Fieldhouse, but Tyshawn gets the victory for Kansas in this matchup.
Shooting guards: Elijah Johnson vs. Matt Pressey
Both of these players are MIA for their respective squads. Matt Pressey averages 6.7 points, but has done nothing recently. He saw the court for 13 minutes in the loss to Kansas State. Pressey shoots 40 percent and averages 26 minutes. He’s not an offensive threat, but maybe Elijah Johnson isn’t either. Johnson shoots a poor 29 percent from the three-point arc. Sure, he can make that, but will he convert against the Tigers when needed most? That’s the biggest question, but I will choose Elijah Johnson over Matt Pressey.
Small forwards: Travis Releford vs. Marcus Denmon
This will be the most intriguing matchup of the game. Releford wasn’t the focal point of the offense against Missouri in the first matchup, but his job was to stop Denmon. Releford did fairly well, but Denmon burned the nets down with his 29-point performance. On Saturday, these two will battle again. Denmon is easily an All-Big 12 selection. According tokenpom.com, the senior guard is ranked 12th in the nation for best offensive rating. Denmon can score in many different ways, but the key to the game will be his three-point shooting. If he struggles early, the Jayhawks will have the complete advantage. Until then, Missouri has the edge here.
Power forwards: Thomas Robinson vs. Kim English
This should be a no-brainer. The front-runner for National Player of the Year versus a six-foot-six forward/guard should be an easy pick right? Not so fast. Yes, Thomas Robinson is an animal. The junior forward is the only player in the Big 12 to average a double-double and he possesses the nation’s best defensive rebound percentage. Robinson’s 25-point performance wasn’t enough in Columbia. However, Kim English’s 18 points were crucial in the Tigers’ victory. Listen, Kim English is a matchup problem for Kansas. He’s quick, he can shoot and he stretches the defense. Who will guard him? If you put Releford on him that leaves Denmon open. If you place Thomas Robinson on him, the matchup slightly favors the Missouri guard. I still will give the edge to Kansas, but English will be a big matchup problem if Thomas Robinson’s defense lags.
Centers: Jeff Withey vs. Ricardo Ratliffe
Neither center contributed in the earlier matchup. Ratliffe continues to score at a high percentage. The six-foot-eight senior shoots 73 percent from the field. Ratliffe didn’t score or rebound much against the Jayhawks, but in the loss to Kansas State, he nabbed 14 rebounds. For the Jayhawks, Jeff Withey continues to improve. 25 points against Baylor on the road for a new career high is what Kansas needs. Can he continue his production though? Only shooting the ball once against a much smaller Missouri team is unacceptable. If Withey establishes himself early in the ballgame, Kansas will succeed. All hail the mighty Withey.
By CJ Matson
Point Guards: Tyshawn Taylor vs. Phil Pressey
Both point guards are two of the best point guards in the country. Phil Pressey has had the luxury of playing with five terrific guards, and Taylor plays with a forward who could be the national player of the year. For both to be successful, they must attack the defense, facilitate the offense and hit open jump-shots. Statistically, Taylor had a much better game than Pressey. Taylor is more valuable to his team than Pressey because Taylor is the primary source of offense for the Jayhawks’ back court. Missouri’s field goal percentage defense is the worst in the Big 12. Taylor is shooting 47.6 percent from the court and 43.3 percent from the 3-point line. Stars step up in big-time games at home. Expect Taylor to take over if or when the game is on the line.
Shooting Guards: Elijah Johnson vs. Matt Pressey
This is a matchup that Elijah Johnson needs to exploit. Even though I expect Michael Dixon, Jr. to get more playing time than Matt Pressey, Johnson is more talented than both of them. Johnson is a better defensive player than offensive player, but he might have a break-out game offensively. Johnson has better size and strength than Dixon, Jr. and Pressey, so look for him to blow past them to induce a foul and get a higher percentage shot. If Johnson is open from behind the arc, which I expect he will, don’t be surprised if converts his shot attempts. Pressey and Dixon, Jr. are nice guards who can provide an offensive boost for Missouri, but Johnson has a bigger role and means more to the Jayhawks.
Small Forwards: Travis Releford vs. Marcus Denmon
This is more of a guard matchup than a small forward one, but it’s the most important. Marcus Denmon is one of the most prolific scorers in the country, scoring 17.8 points-per-game. He is shooting 46 percent from the court, 90 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent from behind the arc. Travis Releford is regarded as one of the best defenders on the Jayhawks’ roster. Defensively, Releford must play the best game of his life. He cannot allow Denmon any space on the court. Otherwise, Denmon will tear the Jayhawks defense apart like he did in Columbia on Feb. 4. Releford needs to stay out of foul trouble, but, at the same time, he must play aggressive defense. Denmon is the catalyst for the Tigers’ offense. Where he goes, so do the Tigers.
Power Forward: Thomas Robinson vs. Kim English
Let’s see, a national player of the year candidate who dominates his opponents in the paint versus a shooting guard. I’ll take the power forward who is the national player of the year candidate. Yes, Kim English will do his best to stretch the offense and force Thomas Robinson to guard him in the perimeter, but how can he possibly defend him down low? English will probably get some help from Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe, but those guys need to guard Jeff Withey too. Robinson is due for a monstrous game, and in a matchup of this magnitude, Robinson wants to show why he’s the national player of the year.
Center: Jeff Withey vs. Ricardo Ratliffe
This is a redemption game for both centers. Between the two players, Jeff Withey and Ricardo Ratliffe combined for six points, eight rebounds, one block and six fouls. Since that game in Columbia, both players have played well, especially Withey. The key will be Withey’s ability to alter shots because of his absurdly long wing-span that significantly affects the opponents’ offense. Ratliffe’s field goal percentage is an astonishing 71.7, but look for that to decrease because of Withey’s defense. As for Withey offensively, he needs to go up strong and force Ratliffe to foul him. Steve Moore has shown that he is not an adequate replacement for Ratliffe. For Ratliffe to succeed, he also needs to go up strong and utilize his strength. I like Withey in this matchup simply because of his ability to protect the basket.