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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Four keys to Saturday’s Kansas-Mizzou matchup

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Thomas Robinson (AP)

What could be the final Border War game in Columbia for the foreseeable future certainly isn't lacking for appealing storylines.

Both fourth-ranked Missouri and eighth-ranked Kansas are in the hunt for the Big 12 championship and a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers need this game to have a realistic chance to halt Kansas' streak of Big 12 championships, while the Jayhawks could reassert their dominance over the league and the rivalry with a victory on Missouri's home floor.

The atmosphere at Missouri for this nationally televised night game promises to be as loud and hostile as any rivalry game this season. Here's a look at some of the keys that could help determine the winner:

1. Will Kansas turn the ball over? Kansas has committed 17 or more turnovers six times this season, but the Jayhawks have improved dramatically in this area in Big 12 play. Thanks largely to senior guard Tyshawn Taylor making better decisions and playing more under control, Kansas has averaged a modest 12.1 turnovers per game since conference play began. Whether the Jayhawks can keep their turnover tally down against a harassing Missouri defense that pressures the ball and chokes off passing lanes will be one of the keys to the game. The Tigers force 15.9 turnovers per game, second most in the Big 12.

2. Can Kansas exploit its size advantage? If the Kansas guards take care of the ball and successfully make entry passes against pressure defense, the Jayhawks should have favorable matchups in the frontcourt. Because Missouri starts four guards and only has two scholarship big men on its roster, the Tigers will likely be at a disadvantage in the paint both defensively and on the glass. Bruising 6-foot-8 Ricardo Ratliffe will draw the initial assignment against either national player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson or center Jeff Withey, leaving 6-foot-6 Kim English to check the other. How successful Kansas is in attacking the offensive glass and forcing English to guard his man one-on-one in the post will be critical to the Jayhawks' chances of winning on the road. 

3. Can Kim English turn the mismatch in Missouri's favor? While English is at a huge disadvantage defensively in the low post, he has the chance to use the mismatch to his advantage on offense. You can bet Missouri will run English off screens and back picks to free him up behind the arc and have him drive to the rim to test whether Robinson or Kansas' other big men can guard him off the dribble. "I don't really see it as a match-up problem," Robinson told CBSSports.com. "I think I have the ability to at least contain them and keep them in front of me. I look at it as they have to check me." For Kansas' sake, Robinson better be right because English is shooting a ridiculous 49.5 percent from behind the arc this season in part because opposing big men have been unable to stay with him.

4. Will Kansas be able to stay in front of Phil Pressey? If English is Missouri's best shooter, Marcus Denmon is the leading scorer and Ratliffe is the top interior threat, then Pressey is the engine that makes the Tigers go. Pressey, generously listed at 5-foot-10, has a pass-first game reminiscent of former Texas star T.J. Ford and is averaging 10.0 points and 6.0 assists this season. Although Pressey isn't much of a three-point shooter, the challenge guarding him is to keep him out of the lane because he draws a help defender and makes great decisions with the ball in his hands. It will probably be Taylor that draws the defensive assignment of checking Pressey.

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