Missouri vs California
Mike Anderson’s Missouri Tigers will compete a bit under the radar in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. Not only nationally, but within the Mizzou fanbase. Why? A little football game versus the Oklahoma Sooners in which Missouri is playing for the right to play for the national title.
That game aside, Missouri has a chance to grow as a basketball team in coach Anderson’s second season; a win at Cal would be a good way to set the wheels in motion. Four players average double-digit points for the Tigers, led by senior guard Stefon Hannah’s 16.4. DeMarre Carroll is also scoring 16 points/game, while also leading Missouri with 7.3 rebounds per contest. One of the toughest, high-motor players in the country, Carroll paces his own squad while frustrating opponents at the same time. The Tigers play at a frenetic pace, looking to run at all times. By speeding the game up, Mizzou forces its opponents out of their comfort zone, as illustrated by forcing an average of 20.6 turnovers/game. As a team, Missouri averages 87 points/game, looking to generate a high number of possessions in each game. That is the definition of an up-tempo, almost helter-skelter team.
The California Golden Bears enter this contest undefeated at 4-0. The Bears feature two players averaging over 20 points/game: 6-10 forward Ryan Anderson and 6-5 guard Patrick Christopher. The versatile Anderson was one of the top freshmen in the Pac-10 last season, leading Cal in both points and rebounds on his way to garnering Pac-10 All-Freshman honors. Christopher has quadrupled his scoring output from last year, diversifying his offensive repertoire and becoming a reliable wing option for the Bears. Center Devon Hardin has been the man on the defensive end of the floor for Cal, averaging nearly 3 blocks and 14.5 rebounds/game (second in the nation). A likely lottery pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, the legitimate seven-footer allows the Bears to take chances on defense, knowing he will be the last line of defense to erase any mistakes that might be made. Finally, point guard Jerome Randle is back healthy for Cal after missing three weeks due to a kidney biopsy. Explosive and quick, the 5-10 Randle hopes to lead his squad this season as the starting floor general.
Ben Braun has served as the head coach in Berkley for twelve seasons now and is the second-winningest coach in program history. He and his Bears have high hopes for this group, as Cal finally has the pieces in place for a sustained run in the NCAA Tournament.
Big Picture: Missouri has played a pretty tough schedule already, including games versus Michigan St (lost) and Maryland (won) on a neutral court in the CBE Classic and at Arkansas (also lost). Add in matchups with Purdue, Illinois, and Mississippi State and the Tigers will have on of the better non-conference schedules in the nation. However, the Tigers must figure out how to turn that schedule into some wins. For this squad, that may be a tough assignment. It will be interesting to see if Coach Anderson can teach his team how to win; if so, look for the Tigers to be sitting on or just inside the bubble come Selection Sunday.
For now, California is the better of these two teams. Playing at home, the Bears should be able to handle the Tigers as long as they are disciplined and look to play their style of game. In the long run, Cal certainly has the makings of an NCAA Tournament team. Playing in a strong conference, the Bears will have the schedule resume for a bid, as long as they are able to generate the necessary wins in the Pac-10. Cal really should have a chance to sneak up on some people nationally this season, as they will provide a tough challenge for the consensus heavyweights of the Pac-10. Look for the Bears to win this non-conference tussle and continue to build on a successful early-season start.