Missouri Tigers (31-6, 12-4 Big 12) vs. Connecticut Huskies (30-4, 15-3 Big East)
Saturday, Mar. 28, 2009 – 4:40 PM EST
The West Regional final features the No. 3 seed Missouri Tigers against the No. 1 seed Connecticut Huskies.
Both teams have played extremely well to reach this point in the tournament.
UConn hasn’t really been tested through any of its first three games.
Missouri continued to prove the doubters wrong by winning the battle of the Tigers as they hung 102 points on Memphis, one of the best, if not the best defensive teams in this year’s tournament.
Simply put, this game will be won by the team that can dictate its will on the other.
As the Tigers have shown all season, they aren’t adverse to make the game a 94-foot affair and working the scoreboard like a pinball machine.
Missouri’s constant pressure forces other teams’ guards into making quick decisions that lead to turnovers. The Tigers then capitalize on those turnovers by cashing in at the offensive end.
Depth is not a problem for the Tigers. They currently have nine players that average between 28 and 11 minutes per game.
Combined with that depth is leadership. The starting lineup consists of seniors DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons, and Matt Lawrence and juniors Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller.
The Tigers will also look to convert from three-point land as well. Carroll, Lyons, and Lawrence all shoot better than 38.5 percent on triples. Kim English is no slouch either at 37.3 percent.
While Missouri wants to play at 100 mph all the time, UConn doesn’t exactly prefer to play games in the 60s.
The Huskies also look to convert fast-break opportunities. And with guards like A.J. Price, Craig Austrie, and Kemba Walker, pushing the ball up-court isn’t a problem.
But when a team has the imposing front line that UConn does—Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and Stanley Robinson—punishing teams in the paint while running half court sets isn’t a bad alternative.
The difference maker for UConn on the defensive end is the 7’3” Thabeet. He’s a shot blocking machine at 4.4 bpg. As impressive as his block are, Thabeet’s mere presence alters so many more shots.
If Missouri is going to try and run the ball down UConn’s throat, the Huskies could do a lot worse than having Thabeet as the last line of defense.
If Thabeet can control the game from the defensive end, Missouri will be in for a long afternoon.
Current line: Connecticut -5.5
Missouri is 17-9-1 against the spread with a record of 3-2 as an underdog.
Connecticut is 15-14 against the spread with a record of 11-13 as the favorite.
At this point in the tournament, with a Final Four berth at stake, Missouri isn’t going away.
Steve’s pick: Missouri +5.5