Sunday, February 27, 2011

A rough trip home from Manhattan

Bramlage Coliseum hasn't been kind to the Tigers in recent years and Saturday was no exception as Missouri dropped another road game 80-70 to the Wildcats.  The loss dropped Mizzou to 22-7 on the season, but more importantly to 8-6 in the conference and tied with K State for 4th when the top 4 teams get byes for the upcoming conference tournament at beautiful Sprint Center in Kansas City.  Laurence Bowers played well with 16 points and 9 rebounds but didn't get much help inside as Ricardo Ratliffe, Justin Safford and Steve Moore combined for only 2 points, 1 rebound and 11 fouls in 21 minutes of play.  That simply isn't going to get it done.  Marcus Denmon dropped 22 points but 9 of those came in the last two minutes when the game was already over.  Marcus, play a little more selfishly and take more shots.  You're the big gun on this team so you might as well learn to embrace it.
Mr Sensitivity
Before the game, Wildcat players Jacob Pullen and Jamar Samuels created a little bulletin board material when they stated that while there was respect between K State and their cross-state rivals, kansas, they disliked Missouri and Samuels went so far as to say he considered the Tigers to be bigger rivals than ku.   While their head coach, Father Frank Martin didn't go so far, he did mention that the two teams usually are competing for the same spot in the conference and the series since his arrival has been remarkably close. (currently 4-3 Tigers)  I'm not sure that this really means anything other than K State feels in desperate need of a real rival and are pissed off that kansas seems to dislike us more than them.  I suppose there's some weird sort of logic there.
So now it comes down to the last week of the season.  The top 3 are set with Texas, kansas and A&M.  Missouri and K State are tied for 4th with Baylor, Nebraska and Colorado bringing up the top 8.  Missouri travels north to hick nation Tuesday night for the final regular season conference game between the two schools.  Then they finish up the season next Sunday against kansas, the other school that K State would like to be considered rivals with.  K State travels to Austin this week to take on the once beaten Longhorns before closing at home against Iowa State.  If the Tigers want to avoid the opening day of the tournament, they need to win out and hope the kitties drop one in Texas this week, 'cause they ain't losing at home to Iowa State.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some questions heading into spring ball. The offense......

We're a little over 2 weeks away from the start of spring football.  That means we now have less than two months with no college football to follow.  Now I happen to consider that about 6 weeks too many, but then I'm something of a fanatic.  The Tigers return 35 of the 44 players in the 2 deep from last year so you wouldn't expect there to be a lot of questions, but early departures by quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive end Aldon Smith created a couple of unexpected holes.  I'm going to talk about some of the questions on the offense today, which has to start with, who's going to be the guy pulling the trigger for the offense now that BG has left for the NFL?  The smart money says it's going to come down to 2 guys that were freshmen last year, James Franklin and Blaine's younger brother Tyler.  Both were highly regarded prospects coming out of high school and appear to be capable of taking over for Blaine, who in my opinion was under-appreciated by Tiger nation.  It can't have been easy following Chase Daniel who's always going to be considered a legend in Columbia following that magnificent 2007 season.  But let's remember that CD had guys like Maclin, Franklin, Coffman, Rucker and Saunders to throw to.  In Blaine's first season when he had Danario Alexander still around he had numbers that were very similar to Chases' sophomore season.  He just lacked the game breaker last year, other than TJ Moe's last minute catch against San Diego State and Jerrell Jackson's catch against OU in the 4th quarter that put the Tigers back in the lead to stay.  If I was handicapping this, I'd have to go with Franklin, but guys that watch the team daily say don't go to sleep on Tyler Gabbert.  If I was a betting man, which I'm not I'm guessing the loser of the battle could well transfer following the season, along with 3rd stringer Ashton Glaser who appears to be the odd man out.  Incoming freshman Corbin Berkstressor had a great senior season but I expect to see him red shirt this year.
The one loss that was expected was center Tim Barnes graduating.  For the past 2 years Travis Ruth was expected to be the successor, but it seems most everyone is talking about a lightly regarded kid from Lebanon, Missouri as most likely to be the starter this fall.  Justin came from my neck of the woods and may well be the first kid to start on a division 1 program.  He was also scorned as a 5.4 two star player who many felt was offered simply to fill up slots.  However, he's been praised by the staff since the day he got on campus due to his work ethic and understanding of the game.  He's yet another exhibit as to why we shouldn't take Rivals or Scouts rankings too seriously.  Actually, after guys like Alexander, Weatherspoon and Hood we should have had some idea that the coaches had some idea what they were doing, but then we wouldn't be Missouri fans.  If it teaches us anything though, we should realize that kids that are really good wrestlers in high school understand the concept of leverage and be able to transfer that to football.  Justin was a two time state champion in the heavyweight division.
At running back, the Tigers went with mostly a three headed, but sometimes four headed monster during the season.  All of the backs experienced some success, but the fact is, it's hard to recruit backs to the system unless you have someone that breaks out as a feature guy.  I know the Tigers realize this, especially with the difficulties they've had recruiting the big name kids, even those that are residents of the Show Me State.  All four of the returners are similar in that they're smallish guys with bursts of speed.  All are capable of breaking the big play any time they touch the ball, but questionable in their ability to break tackles and get the tough yards.  If indeed they attempt to get more touches to one guy, then I'm going to guess, and it's just a guess that the top two getting their chance to shine would be junior Kendial Lawrence and sophomore Henry Josey.  Both were highly regarded kids out of Texas and show more speed than De'Vion Moore, who was usually the starter last year, and Marcus Murphy, who spent the year as the deep man on kickoffs.  And don't rule out red shirt freshman Greg White as a potential short yardage guy.
One spot that you'd think with no questions would be at wide receiver with all three starters returning, but I'm convinced the team has to find a deep threat.  Last year the Tigers brought in three highly regarded recruits, although two of them were red shirted.  Marcus Lucas shed his shirt, but only made three catches last year, although he gained PT as the season went along.  I see him in sort of the D. Alexander mold; a tall receiver with good hands and deceptive speed that's capable of turning a short pass over the middle into a long gain.  Hopefully he can be nearly as effective and healthy.  For sheer speed, give me a look at the two kids that red shirted, Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser.  I expect both to earn plenty of playing time this year.  You also have to remember the kid everyone from the 'Lou was raving about a couple of years ago, Rolandis Woodland.  There's no doubt the kid is a burner.  Now he has to show he knows the playbook and can bring in the critical catch when it's prime time. I believe TJ Moe is a lock to hold on to his spot, but if I'm Jerrell Jackson or Wes Kemp, I'm making sure to get in some extra work this off season.  There are a lot of young lions looking to take your spot.
That's all for today.  I imagine we'll talk about how the basketball team fared this week next time, but when I get back to football, we'll discuss the defense.  Hope your weeks going well for you.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

One for the road.

The Tigers finally got to enjoy a trip home following a road game after their 76-70 win over Iowa State Saturday.  The Tigers raised their record to 21-6 overall and 7-5 in conference by beating the out manned Cyclones.  However it wasn't easy, as it never has been this year for Mizzou away from the home court.  Marcus Denmon went for 25 points and Laurence Bowers added 16, but it took 4 free throws from Michael Dixon in the last 24 seconds to ice the victory.   Combined with an inexplicable loss at home by Baylor to Texas Tech the Tigers moved into the top 4 of the conference standings, and hopefully a 1st round bye in the tournament in Kansas City.   Following a Wednesday night game at home vs the Bears the Tigers take road trips to Kansas State and Nebraska before closing out the regular season at home against the jayhawks of kansas.
Ricardo Ratliffe pulled down 10 rebounds for Mizzou and is becoming the inside presence that they've lacked since the graduations of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll 2 years ago.  They're still giving up too many open looks and having lots of problems when going up against teams with talented front lines.  But the important thing for the Tigers is getting a good draw for the dance is important.  It's a whole new season when the tournament begins and the Tigers with a few breaks are the kind of team that could get on a roll.  If they're able to hold serve at home and could steal one more road win they could be in line for a top 4 seed if they could win a couple of games in the conference tournament.  Heady thoughts after that conference season opener in Boulder.
kansas and Texas still look to be the class of the league, although both have stumbled the last week, especially the Longhorns yesterday, dropping their first conference game to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.  I have to admit that I'm pulling for Texas since I just can't stand the thought of the beaks winning their umpteenth consecutive conference title.  I know that sounds petty, and it probably is, but the last couple of football seasons have been pretty rough on them, and well, what's the good of getting someone down if you can't kick them while they're laying there.    Hope things are going well for you and we'll see what the week brings.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Missouri basketball. Disappointing season or ready for a run?

I don't think that anyone, regardless of how big a homer they are can say the basketball season hasn't been something of a disappointment so far this year.   Picked in the pre season top 10, the Tigers have struggled away from Mizzou arena currently sitting at 19-6 and 5-5 in the Big XII conference without a single conference win coming away from the "Dutch Oven".   However, one thing we've seen from Mike Anderson's teams, unlike previous coach Quin Snyder is the teams actually seem to get better as the season goes along.  It's going to be critical for the Tigers to hit their stride as the season wears down.  Unlike others, I think Mizzou is pretty much a lock for the NCAA tournament, barring a complete meltdown.  But the better the record the higher the seed they can get at the dance.  Another thing we've come to expect is how difficult it is for teams to prepare for their style when it's just something they don't see much of during the regular season.  That seems to be especially true on the 2nd game of the weekend when their opponents may be a little tired from the earlier match up.
Everyone needs to step up, but our guard play has been giving up too many open looks, especially from outside the perimeter.  We didn't realize how hard it was going to be to replace guys like JT Tiller and Zaire Taylor and their defense.  Fortunately, with guys like Mike Dixon, Marcus Denmon, the brothers Pressey and Kim English, there's plenty of talent.  Laurence Bowers seems to be regaining confidence since his concussion and is certainly needed to help Ricardo Ratliff some help down low.  It would have been great to have had Tony Mitchell to this group, but the NCAA, in it's usual efficient manner, held off making a decision until the start of the second semester, virtually stalling his attempt to make it to college.  He fortunately was able to sign with North Texas.  I wish him well.
The schedule plays out pretty well for Mizzou going down the stretch.  Texas Tech comes to town Tuesday night.  The remaining road schedule, while certainly couldn't be called easy, does ease up a bit with trips to Iowa State, K State and Nebraska.  Steal a couple of these game and hold serve at home, which won't be easy with kansas still coming to town, and they have an excellent chance of a first day bye at the Big XII tournament being held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City again this year.  Win at least a game there and you should be looking at a top 4 or 5 seed and a favorable destination the opening weekend of the tournament.  But it all starts this week when the Red Raiders come to town.  If you can make it, I urge you to come out and watch them tonight.  There's only two more chances after tonight to watch them before next November.  And once again, if you're a Tigers fan, I urge you to take a look at the book featured below.  "True Sons: A Century of Missouri Tigers Basketball".  It's just excellent.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football

Of course the title of this post is obvious.  Like saying water is wet.  Without a steady stream of talent, no college football program will continue to succeed.  In the last 4 years, Missouri has won 40 football games despite not having classes that were considered to be the best.  This year the Tigers took a small class of 17, which would have been smaller without the early departures of their two most visible prospects, Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith.  Tiger nation has been bemoaning this class since Rivals ranked it 47th among FBS schools, behind such powers as Boston College, The University of Central Florida and kansas for God's sake.  However, I believe that once we take a look back in three years or so we'll find that this class was better than we thought, and I have some historical evidence to prove that as re-rated the 2008 class that was ranked 25th by Rivals that year.  We've got to remember that the services give higher marks for teams that sign more players, and well, sometimes they just miss it on how highly a player is rated.  A 3 star quarterback that was considered a little too short to be successful in D1 football named Chase Daniel ring a bell with anyone? 
This year the Tigers obtained a commitment from only one 4 start player, Sheldon Richardson who was a 5 star when he originally signed two years ago.  Sheldon had to detour to junior college in California, and flirt with USC before finally coming to his senses and re-signing with the Tigers after much soul searching and his mother threatening him with a cast iron skillet.  Everyone agrees that if he does in fact make it and is on the team this fall, that he's the kind of player that can make a huge impact on the defensive line, an area that improved greatly last year but still could always use depth.  Some guys that don't seem to be getting as much attention that I think will be very successful for Mizzou are Gerrand Johnson, a 270 lb defensive tackle from Rayville, LA and Kentrell Brothers, an undersized linebacker from Oklahoma that was voted the defensive player of the year in that state.  Yes, he's coming in at only 207 lbs, which is about 10 pounds heavier than an unknown kid from Texas named Weatherspoon and he seemed to turn out ok.  If Pat Ivey says he can grow them, I tend to believe him.  With 8 offers from BCS conference teams, offensive lineman Taylor Chappell may turn out to be quite a find also, as well as Shane Ray, a defensive end from the KC area who passed on offers from Wisconsin and Notre Dame, among others to sign with the Tigers.  
Depth on the offensive line was addressed with 4 signees, they got the quarterback they wanted as well as defensive players to replace guys like J. Smith, Lambert, Ebner and company after they graduate this year.  This simply wasn't a year they had anything they were desperate to address.  Coach Pinkel has depth across the board now and players that would have gotten offers 5 years ago just aren't getting them today.  This is evidenced by Darrien Miller, who some considered to be the best player in the state, not receiving an offer.  However, next year is huge and the staff will need to get a jump.  It's one of the best classes in Missouri high school football we've seen in the past 5 years, which is saying a lot considering some of the talent we've seen in 2008 and 2009.  But, I'm going to give Pinkel and company some credit.  At least until next season starts.  But we need to get a jump on a great class.  Maty Mauk from Ohio would be a great start.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2011 Missouri Tigers baseball. Bounce back year?

Last season was a rough year for the Missouri Tigers baseball team.  After qualifying for post season play after the 2003-2009 seasons the Tigers fell to 29-26 last season, failing to reach the NCAA tournament.  Manager Tim Jamieson hasn't been the most popular coach in CoMO despite a record of 480-329-2 and 8 trips to post season play during his tenure that began in 1995.  Expectations are low for the Tigers this year as they've been picked to finish 8th in the conference.  (Iowa State and Colorado don't field teams) The Tigers return 6 starters from last years squad, which was poor by Missouri standards.  The pitching figures to be decent, but offense was a real problem for the Tigers last year and the only returner that hit over .300 last year is Ryan Gebhart who only played in 20 games last year.
Despite what Missouri fans think of Jamieson, he's obviously well thought of as he's been selected to manage Team USA this spring, but has suffered by the recent success of softball manager Ehren Earleywine, especially the last 2 seasons.  The Tigers haven't won a conference crown since the 1980 season, and considering the success they had from 1952 to 1965 when they won 7 conference titles and made 6 trips to the college world series, finishing 2nd three times and winning it all in 1954.  An interesting member of that team was former basketball coach Norm Stewart, who was a pitcher on the team.  Norm was a true 2 sport athlete at Mizzou, good enough to be drafted by the St Louis Hawks of the NBA and the Baltimore Orioles in major league baseball.  If Jamieson could achieve half the popularity "Stormin' Norman" did, he'd probably retire from Missouri whenever he wanted to.
I have no idea how the baseball team will do this season.  My heart tells me someone will come through and they'll be competitive again this season.  Taylor stadium is a great place to watch a game and I usually try to hit a couple of games, one which traditionally falls on the same day as the spring game of the football Tigers.  More than likely however, it's going to be another disappointing season for the Black & Gold and TJ will be facing a lot of heat.  Now that Cindy Stein is no longer patrolling the sidelines for the women's basketball team, he's a very likely target.  Hopefully, and I doubt this is likely, he could talk former Tiger Phil Bradley into working with the baseball team as he has with softball the last couple of years.  If you're looking to follow Tigers baseball a little closer, may I recommend you visit for a complete look at your Tiger team.  It's an excellent read. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Missouri Tigers softball opens the season ranked 7th in the nation.

I realize that softball isn't one of the sports that gets many fans pulse racing.  It's way down the list from football, men's basketball, or baseball for that matter.  However, head coach Ehren Earleywine has built quite a successful program since his hiring in 2006.  Last season the Tigers won a school record 51 games and went to their 2nd consecutive college world series.  They finished ranked 8th in the nation.   This season the Tigers open the season with a # 7 national ranking and picked to finish 2nd in the Big XII behind defending champion Oklahoma.  Once again, 1981 graduate Phil Bradley returns as a volunteer assistant.  Nothing wrong with getting a guy that spent 8 years in the major leagues, including being voted to the all star team to work with the ladies for free.
Star pitcher Chelsae Thomas returns this year following a medical red shirt to give Mizzou a great 1-2 punch on the mound with junior Kristin Nottelmann who won 24 games last year while striking out 165 and an ERA of 1.25 in league play.  The offense is led by catcher Megan Christopher, Ashley Fleming, Marla Schweisberger and Rhea Taylor.  The recruiting class looks strong adding such players as Brianna Corwin from Kansas City, Taylor Duplechain from Pearland, TX, Maddison Ruggesberg from Davenport, IA and Mackenzie Sykes from Blue Springs.
The Lady Tigers opener is just around the corner as the Black & Gold game will be played on February 12th.  They'll travel to a warmer venue on February 18th when they travel to San Diego for the San Diego Classic tournament, followed by another trip to Tampa for the USF tournament.  The home opener is March 2nd with a double header against Drake University and the conference season begins on March 23rd when they travel to lawrence to face the lady beaks.  I'm not trying to sell anyone on this being the same sort of experience as Saturday afternoons at Faurot, but this is a team that can absolutely challenge for a national championship this year and they deserve some support.  I know I plan on making it out for a game or two and hope to see you there.