Two of the biggest conferences in NCAA College Basketball get prepared for their title games this evening, and with the last games of the NCAA season taking place today and tomorrow ahead of the NCAA tournament selection on Sunday night, it’s a great opportunity to take a deeper look at the biggest game on Saturday’s schedule. As such, let’s break down the first conference championship game of the evening tipping off at 6:00 PM ET in Kansas City, Missouri, as the #5 Missouri Tigers (29-4, 14-4 Big 12) and the #11 Baylor Bears (27-6, 12-6 Big 12) dance for the Big 12 title.
The Missouri Tigers seek to cap off their departure from the Big 12 this season in historic fashion, by winning the Big 12 tournament on their way out the door towards the SEC. This year’s class of Tigers couldn’t be better suited to tackle that challenge. With a wealth of talented players across their line-up including leading scorer Marcus Denmon (17.7 points, 5.2 rebounds/game), Kim English (14.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Michael Dixon (13.2 ppg, 3.2 assists/game), Mizzou ranks 3rd in the nation in shooting (50.3 from the floor), and averages an even 80 points per game (7th in the nation). The Tigers excel at pushing the ball in transition and outpace opponents with a smaller, quicker lineup. That combination seemed to work well in both match-ups this year against Baylor, with Missouri holding on to win a wild 89-88 game in Waco, TX on January 21st despite getting out-shot from the floor and from 3-pt range, and winning at home 72-57 while holding Baylor to just %36.2 shooting on the night. It’s evident in these two previous match-ups that Mizzou can beat you in a variety of ways. In the first match-up it was Ricardo Ratliffe’s 27 points and the Tigers’ 10-for-12 free-throw shooting down the home stretch that sealed the deal. In the second contest it was a much-improved defensive effort that only allowed one Bears’ shooter to reach double digits (meanwhile 4 Tigers’ players scored more than 12 points). Missouri has won 3 straight against Baylor, and to get their 4th in a row, they’ll have to have a concerted effort from their top players, and avoid becoming too dependent on any one or two me members of their line-up.
For tonight’s re-re-match against Baylor, Missouri will look to continue its hot-shooting ways from last nights’ game against Texas, where they put down a %52.6 shooting effort from the floor in an 81-67 win despite an awful outing from Marcus Denmon (0-for-10 from the floor, 2 pts). While Denmon can be expected to improve and step up for tonight’s title fight, one big bright spot for the Tigers last nights’ game was Flip Pressey (9.9 ppg, 6.3 apg), who dropped 23 points on Texas while going 5-for-7 from 3-pt range to make up for Denmon’s off night. While Baylor plays good defense in the middle, and did a good job limiting Kansas’ big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey last night, they are susceptible to a balanced, good-shooting perimeter game, as evidenced by the fact that Pressey has amassed 35 points in the two meetings against Baylor this year, going 6-for-12 from beyond the arc. With the depth Missouri has already, another stand-out performance from Pressey could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Baylor. Missouri shoots at nearly 40 percent from 3-pt range on the season (39.4 to be exact), and forcing Baylor to come out at them around the arc will open up opportunities for their quicker players to break towards the basket and generate higher-percentage shots. While Missouri likely won’t be winning this game inside the paint, as Baylor has a size advantage against them, they can dictate the ball game with their outside shooting, drawing the Bears into playing a more spread out defensive configuration that leaves them susceptible to penetrating drives towards the bucket.
Baylor on the other hand has to be happy with its near wire-to-wire performance last night in the win over Kansas, however arguments can be made that Missouri actually matches up better against the Bears than the Jayhawks do, due mainly to the Tigers depth. What’s really promising for Baylor heading into tonight’s game though, is the fact that they too got a wide range of contributors in last night’s contest, with all 5 starters going for double figures. While Baylor didn’t shoot well (40 percent from the floor), they got a big boost via Brady Heslip (9.5 ppg) around the perimeter, who went 4-for-6 from downtown, including 2 big three pointers late in the game that helped fend off a torrid 18-3 scoring run from the Jayhawks. Baylor shot 47.4 percent from around the perimeter, which is certainly something that could give them a boost against tonight against a very good perimeter shooting team in Missouri. Another big plus for Baylor was their impressive shooting at the free-throw line, knocking down 24 of 28 shots (%85.7), which could be a big help to them as the smaller Tigers will often be forced into fouling situations against a bigger, more physical Baylor team. It bodes very well for the Bears that their big men including Perry Jones III (13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Quincy Acy (12.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Quincy Miller (11.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) went a combined 12-for-13 from the charity stripe last night, and in a competition where free throws win championships, Baylor must get every point they can when the clock is stopped to find an edge against Mizzou. While the contributions of Baylor’s guards will be a valued asset tonight against a good shooting Tigers team, even more important is what the Bears’ three inside guys are able to do; Baylor can win this match-up by controlling the boards, getting lots of second chance points, and keeping their shooting percentage shot up by getting good looks under the hoop. If Baylor’s game is forced to the outside, it becomes more of a crap-shoot against one of the best shooting Tigers’ team in history.
Another big area that Baylor has to focus on tonight is their defense. Against the Jayhawks last night, the Bears couldn’t have hardly asked for a better defensive effort, holding Kansas to just 42.6 percent from the floor and just 15.4 percent from beyond the arc, and reacted well when Kansas came roaring back near the end of the game. With Missouri shooting the ball very well from outside via their smaller guards, this bodes very well for Baylor heading into tonight’s competition, but they must do better to contain the Tigers’ shooters, who were able to hit 21 of 44 shots (47.7 percent) in the two games against the Bears this year. That puts pressure on Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson to step up big on defense tonight, because if Missouri is able to shoot near 50 percent from the floor in their fast-paced game mode, Baylor will struggle to keep up. Thus, the Bears have to work to stop the Tigers’ transition play, get back on defense, and get every loose ball they can. You can’t expect to not get burned by giving such a talented team like Mizzou second chances, so being big on the boards is a huge priority, outside of playing better perimeter defense. Expectations are high for Perry Jones III to have a big game on defense tonight, along with Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, as the three showed collective poise against arguably the best big man in the country (Thomas Robinson). If they repeat that performance, and get better play against Mizzou’s guards, Baylor can get hold of an upper hand early in the contest, which could find them controlling the pace and the scoring in tonight’s game.
Betting Lines for #5 Missouri vs. #11 Baylor at Bookmaker Sportsbook
Kansas City, Missouri is almost home for the Missouri Tigers, however with Kansas falling last night despite playing just 40 miles from home, it’s evident that you can kiss any kind of home court advantage goodbye in this Big 12 championship game. That said, Missouri still finds itself as the favored team in tonight’s match-up with -170 odds to win straight up on the money line. Baylor enters as a slight underdog, getting +150 odds for tonight’s game.
It’s expected to be a tight finish between the two Big 12 powerhouses, as against the spread we find just 3 1/2 points separating Missouri and Baylor. +3 1/2 points goes the way of the Bears (-110 odds), while the Tigers must make up -3 1/2 points (-110 odds) as the favored team. In a game that could come down to just one last 3-point effort to win or tie the game, Baylor looks like a great pick to cover their spread, as in a 3-point game, they’ll have an upper hand on the betting lines.
On the total points line at Bookmaker, the over/under stands at a lofty 148 points. This is almost half way in between the two points totals reached in the previous two match-ups between these Big 12 foes (177 in the first meeting, 129 in the second), but with a good likelihood of an overtime session, and a more open, fast-paced game set to play out, the over wager on total points appears to be the best looking bet here on the points line.
Baylor has to come out strong on defense in tonight’s game to avoid finding themselves in a hole against a very talented shooting team in Missouri. The Tigers on the other hand will have to put their attention into stopping the Baylor big men from dominating the game inside the paint, as the Bears could find a big advantage via their size and physical abilities down low. What may set this game apart however is the outside shooting for both teams, as it’s been a trend in conference tournament games this year that the team that can hit the big three can win the big games (Cincinnati’s win over Syracuse and Baylor’s win over Kansas are both great examples). If it does come down to that, Missouri has to be the favorite to win tonight, as their speed, ball movement, and talent around the perimeter outmatches that of Baylor. We’re backing the Tigers to grab a parting Big 12 title victory tonight in a very close showdown in Kansas City, beating the Baylor Bears 76-73.