January 3rd is not a date any basketball fans want to remember from this season. The Oklahoma Sooners traveled to Columbia, MO to take on a highly ranked Missouri Tigers squad in their conference opener. The end result was getting bounced to the tune of 87-49 setting the Sooners lowest point total of the season.
This time, Oklahoma will be looking to reverse that trend as the big three have got a nice rhythm going. So, what makes first year Head Coach Frank Haith's team so tough to beat?
It all starts in the backcourt with Marcus Denmon and Kim English, a senior guard duo that bring not only leadership to this team but scoring options. Denmon is coming off a monster performance against the Kansas Jayhawks as he poured in 3-after-3 ball tallying 29 points. It is always tough to follow up such performances with another one but he may not need to.
Another senior in Ricardo Ratliffe currently leads the nation in shooting percentage at 74.7%. He is finding a rhythm while taking high percentage shots. Ratliffe is just one of the multitude of scoring options outside of Denmon as the Tigers have 4 players averaging 12+ points per game.
A quick look at the overall picture. Missouri ranks fourth in the country in field goal percentage (.499), No. 5 in free throw percentage (.774), No. 7 in scoring (80.9 ppg), No. 9 in steals (9.1 spg) and No. 38 in 3-point field goal percentage (.382). There is a reason they sit atop many Big XII rankings.
One thing that is a must for this Sooners team is that they will have to defend the perimeter well. The previous match-up versus the Iowa St. Cyclones should have been a solid prep guide coming into tonight as Mizzou buried 12 treys on January 3rd.
Oklahoma must win the rebounding battle. In the first meeting, it was the second time of the season OU had been out rebounded. Not only were they out rebounded they were dominated 38-23 while the Sooners were only able to grab 7 boards off the offensive glass.
Steven Pledger must get going early and I'm not just talking about from outside. Pledger needs the ball in his hands as he is aggressive in attacking the rim but also has the option for a pull-up. He is a threat each and every time he touches the ball no matter where he is on the court. However, Pledger takes much of the attention which opens things up for Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald. While both are good scoring options, if Pledger is as cold as ice, Osby and Fitz will suffer a bit as well. All three will need to perform well and most likely score in double digits to keep this one respectable.
This CANNOT turn into a track meet. Oklahoma found themselves in a 43-25 hole by half. What Missouri lacks in size, they definitely make up for in speed.