Fantasy College Basketball Game of the Week: Missouri at Mississippi
Fantasy writers live in the world of prediction. As such, we are often wrong because being a fantasy writer provides no special knowledge of the future. On Friday, I boldly predicted that Duke would lose to North Carolina State, even though the Blue Devils were rated as the best team in the country. Yes, I am complaining about the AP poll again. It's worthless. I watched the game after I knew the final score just to see how it happened. Duke was not able to control C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell. I am not sure Duke would have won with Ryan Kelly. I was right with my prediction because winning on the road is difficult and the Wolfpack is good.
I also predicted that SEC newcomer Missouri would win the regular season championship in their new conference. They still might, but they did not look good in getting beat soundly by Ole Miss on Saturday evening. I thought the SEC power structure would be Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida as the top four teams with Arkansas possibly taking fifth. I didn't consider the Rebels who have not played in the NCAA tournament since 2002. They have averaged 20 wins in their last four seasons, but generally have not come through with a signature win to improve their tournament resume enough to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. Perhaps they have their big win this season. The Rebels' non-conference slate was not terribly difficult with eight wins against teams rated above 200 in RPI. They also lost to Indiana State and Middle Tennessee State, but both of those teams are rated in the Top 50.
Coming into the season, I knew Ole Miss had Murphy Holloway, a strong rebounding forward who transferred away and back to the Rebels within the space of a season. They pair Holloway with Reginald Bucker to form a solid frontcourt that can rebound and defend. I wasn't sure about the backcourt, which could be a problem against Missouri, but NCAA vagabond Marshall Henderson is back in Division 1 after time away. Henderson was cut from Utah in the 2009-10 season for getting into a fight with BYU. He spent last year in junior college. The Rebels also have former point guard Jarvis Summers and Indiana guard Nick Williams, so they have a pretty solid starting five which maybe should not have been overlooked.
Since I had Holloway on a couple of fantasy teams last year, I was familiar with his production if not his game. As expected, the 6-7 senior was strong on the boards and grabbed eight rebounds against the Tigers. He is more athletic than I thought he would be and hit some tough shots in transition. He could work himself into a second round draft pick after the season, but I don't think his ball handling and shooting skills are good enough to play at the next level. It doesn't help Holloway's cause that he will be 23 in April. I took an almost immediate dislike to Henderson, who was coming off a 32-point game against Tennessee on Wednesday. Generally, I either like or have no feelings about players, but something about Henderson evoked my ire. He only had 11 points, but made a dopey hand gesture after making a pair of 3-pointers and said something to an Ole Miss cheerleader as he slid out of bounds. I don't know why exactly, but I wouldn't want him on my team.
I suppose now would be the time where I examine what went wrong with the Tigers. After all, they were "upset." Like Duke, they were playing without one of their major rotation players, Laurence Bowers, who is out with a knee strain. It also didn't help that they didn't score for the first six and a half minutes of the game. It appeared as if the Tiger perimeter shooters were having some issues with the shooting background because they were missing by a wide margin. I don't usually put too much credence in that kind of thing, but it was apparent that Missouri took awhile to adjust to Smith Coliseum and finished just 2-of-18 on 3-pointers. This was their first trip to Oxford as part of the SEC. Trouble with unfamiliar stadiums could be an issue going forward.
I've watched Phil Pressey many times before. He is one of the better passing point guards in the nation and is generally excellent at using his cutters and hitting them in stride. Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe made a science of the pick-and-roll last year, but Pressey may have missed Bowers the most. While he is a fine passer, I also don't think he has what it takes to be an NBA guard. His 5-11 stature will be a major problem and he is not an above average shooter or defender.
Overall, it appears that Missouri is a better team on paper than on the court. As is often the case, I was somewhat fooled by overrated the value of some of the Tiger transfers. Keion Bell was a high usage, highly productive fantasy stud at Pepperdine, but he is just another player for the Tigers. Earnest Ross was also an intriguing wing while at Auburn, but he has been inconsistent in his junior season. Jabari Brown may have the highest upside of the transfers, but it looks like he does not have a clearly defined role on Mizzou. Finally, Alex Oriakhi has a clear role as well as championship experience, but he isn't much more than a big body. Coach Frank Haith had a very successful first year with the Tigers on a senior-laden team, but he may need to do more with a talented roster to win the SEC. I have my doubts on whether he can do it.