COLUMBIA - When Missouri upset then-No. 18 and Big 12 Conference leader Kansas State 77-74 on Feb. 2 at Mizzou Arena, a large part of the victory was containing phenomenal Wildcats freshman forward Michael Beasley.
Beasley has scored 25.1 points and grabbed 12.4 rebounds per game this year, but on Feb. 2 the Tigers held him to 17 points and 10 rebounds. Even after his below average performance, Beasley impressed Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll.
“He’s going No. 1 in the draft, you can say that for sure,” Carroll said after the Tigers beat Kansas State. “He’s very unstoppable, if you let him sit down there in the post and get offensive rebounds.”
On Saturday, the teams meet again, this time in Manhattan, Kan., and not much has changed from two weeks ago. Kansas State is still No. 18 in The Associated Press poll and is No. 22 in the coaches’ poll.
The Wildcats are also still near the top of the Big 12 standings, tied for second with Texas thanks to a 7-2 conference record.
And Beasley continues to rip through opposing defenses.
Missouri, meanwhile, is still in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. The Tigers are in eighth place at 4-6 in the conference.
Guard J.T. Tiller said it will be another difficult game when the Tigers play the Wildcats again, but the challenge isn’t all that different from the first game.
“We know they’re a very good team,” Tiller said by phone after MU beat Nebraska on Wednesday night. “And we know they have it out for us. We’re just ready. We’ve got to focus on the next couple of days, practicing and working on our conditioning and everything like that.”
The road has been difficult for the Tigers all year. They have won just two of their eight road games, but those two wins have come in Big 12 play, and Missouri has won two of its past three road games. The loss came to Kansas on Feb. 4 in Lawrence, Kan.
“Just be ready for Manhattan pretty much, because that’s a very tough place to play,” Tiller said. “So we really got to get together mentally and physically to be ready for that game.”
While Kansas State and Nebraska, the Tigers’ last opponent, are at different ends of the Big 12 standings, the two teams have one thing in common. Both are built around dominant post players: Beasley for the Wildcats, and Aleks Maric for the Cornhuskers.
Missouri had trouble stopping Maric in the second half of Wednesday’s game. He scored 24 of his 32 points after halftime. The challenge he posed might help the Tigers prepare for Beasley and Kansas State. The defensive principles will remain the same, and Missouri will surely attempt to push the tempo so high that a post player will not be effective.
“I wouldn’t say it makes it easier, but it does help us coming from Maric to Beasley,” Tiller said. “But they have two different games, and we just got to stick together as a team and just help in the post and put pressure (on the guards) and we should be fine.”
A big key to slowing Beasley in the first meeting was double and triple-teaming him each time he touched the ball. Beasley showed he won’t force up an unnecessary shot in a crowd of defenders. He routinely passed the ball out to his teammates and worked for something better when extra Missouri defenders collapsed on him.
Containing Beasley will be necessary for the Tigers to have another shot at an upset. Missouri will also have to continue the balanced scoring attack it has shown lately and not get rattled on the road.
All those things have happened before for the Tigers.