The Villanova Wildacats look to give the Missouri Tigers their first real test.
Is Frank Haith the luckiest first year coach in college
hoops this year, or what? Instead of
being involved with the present turmoil at Miami-FL, Haith is in charge of a
very experienced, very good Missouri Tigers team that begins this week 10th in
both polls and will be in the mix for the Big 12 title along with Kansas and Baylor.
And to think, he wasn't even Missouri's
first choice to take over the job vacated by Mike Anderson who departed for Arkansas.
There may still be some repercussions for Haith after
getting mixed up in the Nevin Shapiro scandal down in Coral Gables. For now, however, he'll focus on leading this high-octane Tigers squad
that finds itself in New York City
to take on the Villanova Wildcats in the Jimmy V Classic on Wednesday.
NCAA basketball odds opened with the Tigers favored by -6.5 points with the total at 144. Early action has increased the spread to -8 with a total of 149.5 at most NCAA basketball betting shops.
with ESPN broadcasting the tip from Madison
a little after 7 PM (ET).
Haith really did walk into a gold mine in Columbia. Anderson
built a great program quickly at Mizzou, employing his own version of '40
minutes of hell' created by coaching mentor Nolan Richardson. The Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament each
of the last three seasons under Anderson,
including an Elite 8 appearance in 2009.
What may be Haith's best job of coaching so far might be his
willingness to leave the pressure and fast-paced style of play in place and not
tinker too much with Anderson's
success. The Tigers' scoring stats are
gaudy, sixth in the nation averaging 86.3 points per game and fifth in field
goal shooting (52.5%). Missouri hasn't posted less than 81 points
in any game so far, and reached a season-high (so far) with a 92-53 rout of
then-No. 18 Cal to win the CBE Classic in Kansas City a little more
than two weeks ago.
The most impressive stat, however, is Missouri's ratio of steals to
turnovers. The Tigers have averaged 10 miscues
a game while taking the ball from the other guys 11 times on average. Experience is a key factor, with four seniors
among the top 6 players in terms of court time, and a fifth in his junior year.
Marcus Denmon leads the way with his 20.3 PPG mark 22nd in
the nation, and sixth among players in the major conferences. Along with fellow seniors Kim English (16.9
PPG, 4.4 RPG) and Ricardo Ratliffe (13.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG), Denmon forms a very
impressive trio inside, outside, running, passing, shooting and working the
Meanwhile down in Philly, Jay Wright and 'Nova are trying to
find their way after losing three of the top 4 scorers from a year ago,
including the two Corey's, Fisher and Stokes. With the exception of a couple of off games after making the trek out
west to the 76 Classic in Anaheim over Thanksgiving, things have gone fairly well. For the most part 'Nova is just a year
younger than Missouri;
where the Wildcats have juniors, the Tigers have seniors.
Maalik Wayns leads the Wildcats with nearly 19 points a
game, and teamed with Dominic Cheek (12.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG) presents what should be
great matchups against Denmon and English on the Missouri end. Villanova's big man in the middle, Mouphtaou
Yarou, could hold the key to the game with the Tigers a little short at the
true center position unless Steve Moore has a career outing.
If there is a wildcard to this game on the Wildcats' side,
it would be a pair freshmen, JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard. Both are extremely talented players and just
finding their games on the collegiate level.
The mystery on Missouri's
side is not playing much of anyone since the CBE Classic win over Thanksgiving,
so shaking off the rust very early will be key against a Villanova team that
might be playing a little under the radar right now.
Taking a Chance: 'Nova
has long been an albatross of mine when it comes to betting futures or spreads,
so I'm immediately only looking at the total when making my NCAA Basketball picks in this game. The opening number there will be a season-high for Mizzou so far, and
second-most for Villanova's six games to carry totals.
There should be an
uptick on defense for both sides to contend with, and Missouri scores under 80 for the first time
this season. Handicapper Bob Harvey has posted an argument in favor of the 'Over', but I'm not buying it. My pick is the UNDER,
Tigers win it 77-70.
My Pick: Take the Under