With a doubleheader in store for tonight’s 2011 Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, we’re looking to the best match-up available with the red-hot #10 Missouri Tigers (7-0) heading out of state for the first time and getting a great road challenge against the Villanova Wildcats (5-2). After dropping two straight games during the 76 Classic in Anaheim, CA, Villanova will be licking its chops at the chance to regain footing in the upper echelons of College Basketball with a win tonight over Missouri, however that may be much easier said than done against a Tigers team that is dominating opposing teams with outstanding shooting prowess, and smothering, shutdown defense.
After watching the Missouri Tigers manhandle then 20th-ranked Cal 92-53 during the final of CBE Classic in Kansas City, we’re quickly realizing that this team certainly can contend with anyone while playing on home court advantage, but the real test this season for the 10th ranked Mizzou squad will be what they can do when there’s relatively little fan base supporting them on the road. Beating opponents by an average of almost 30 points during the first 7 games played, the Tigers have excelled at getting great contributions from all their upperclassmen starters, collectively shooting 52.5 percent from the floor in games to date. Missouri utilizes a very quick, small offensive attack, with no starter bigger than the 6’8″ presence of Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 points, 6.6 rebounds/game), and has excelled in the pass-and-shoot game, as was evident in last Friday’s rout of Northwestern State with leading scorer Marcus Denmon dropping a career-high 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting, while the aforementioned Ratliffe was almost perfect at 10-11 shooting with 22 points to boost his season shooting average to an incredible 74.1 percent. There’s contributions from many sources in the Tigers line-up, with guard Kim English contributing big numbers in the 3-point game this season (%56 shooting, 25 of 44 shots made), Michael Dixon pouring in 11.6 points off the bench (not to mention a near-flawless %96.8 from the free-throw stripe), and the Pressey brothers (Flip and Matt) helping to distribute the ball around the perimeter.
Missouri has been great this season at singling out and containing opponent’s top scorers, while playing shutdown defense on the perimeter and holding opponents to just 58.4 points/game overall this season. For Villanova, this will be an interesting challenge to find ways to attack the Missouri defense, which aggravates and frustrates opponents with their speed and quickness. One area where the Wildcats can help themselves out tonight is on the offensive and defensive glass, and that starts with the inside presence of 6’10″ Mouphtaou Yarou (16 points, 8.4 rebounds), who has been a force in the paint with his size and strength. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles containment against the quicker Tigers driving into the lanes, but it’s crucial that Yarou helps to lead the Wildcats to the rebound advantage in tonight’s game, as ‘Nova will need as many possessions as possible to keep pace with a hot shooting Missouri team. With the Wildcats lacking the depth of Mizzou as well (only 3 players are in double figures this year), they’ll have to have good shooting nights from their leading scorer Maalik Wayns (18.7 points, 4.1 boards, 4.4 assists/game), as well as Dominic Cheek and James Bell, as bench scoring for ‘Nova is adding only 12.4 points per contest. Unless the Wildcats can find ways to get more production throughout their line-up, this game will very likely hinge on the success or failure of the ‘Nova starters against a very good defense played by Mizzou.
There’s no doubt that a big wild card in tonight’s match-up lies in the fact that Missouri heads out of their comfortable Mizzou Arena digs for tonight’s game, and will be facing a pro-Villanova crowd on one of the biggest sports stages in the world. How Mizzou’s top scorers handle the change of scenery and the exposure of the big city will certainly be intriguing to watch, but even on the road sports bettors should feel confident in the Tigers being a well-rounded, well-coached squad under first year head coach Frank Haith. Off to their best start since the 2006-7 campaign, look for the Missouri defense to continue to pressure opposing shooters into making mistakes, and on offense, force opposing defenders to foul and put Mizzou shooters on the line. They’ll no doubt look to chase ‘Nova’s leading scorer Maalik Wayns into early foul trouble (something he’s been guilty of in two straight games), and keep the top three scorers in check, knowing that Mizzou scoring can come from just about anywhere whenever needed. On the flipside for the Villanova Wildcats, they’ll need to find a way to keep pressing the ball forward, and avoid allowing the Tigers to get settled into their defensive schemes. With their field goal percentage almost 10 points lower than Missouri’s, the Wildcats will have to push the ball into high-percentage shooting areas tonight, as trying to set up and outshoot the Tigers from the perimeter simply won’t work in their favor. Getting to the boards and getting put-backs will also help out ‘Nova’s cause, but just as important will be keeping the ball away from the Tigers as much as possible; if Villanova can overcome the rebounding margin and win the turnover battle early on, there’s a chance they can pull off an upset in tonight’s match-up yet.
Betting Lines for #10 Missouri vs. Villanova
Missouri comes into their first road challenge as a healthy favorite to win, getting -350 odds on the money line and needing to overcome 7.5 points against the spread (-110 odds) at the Oddsmaker.ag Sportsbook. The underdog Villanova Wildcats are a +290 to win straight up, but perhaps the best wager for ‘Nova pickers is to hope for a close game at Madison Square Garden, and a possibility of the Wildcats keeping the game inside 8 points. The over/under sits at 149 points, which with the scoring prowess of both teams could be in jeopardy of going over tonight, however I expect this match-up to be a much more defensive competition than many might expect, with Missouri looking to control pace, rely on setting up good shots, and keeping Villanova scoring in check with good defensive play.
Our Pick to Win:
This is a retribution game for us after making a disastrous call against Missouri in their match-up against Cal (admittedly we picked Cal to win, even though they were routed by 39 points), and after learning a good lesson early in the season, we’re not shying away from backing the Tigers any further. Despite Mizzou being on the road for the first time this year, this is a confident, experienced bunch with many players that can help carry the load. Though up against a good Villanova team that likely will have a home-court type atmosphere on the East Coast at MSG, the Tigers will prevail tonight over a very young ‘Nova team that is bound to make some mistakes that get translated into Mizzou points. Picking up the win and beating the points spread at 7.5 points on another big night from the collective of seniors Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and Ricardo Ratliffe, the Tigers beat the Wildcats, 78-65.