COLUMBIA — Nine games into the Missouri men's basketball season one would have expected a team like Missouri to have outmuscled some of its weaker opponents.
Four of Missouri’s six wins have come against lower-tier Division I schools that have an 8-30 combined record. But the Tigers were outrebounded in one of those games (Chattanooga) and had just a six-rebound advantage in another (Fairleigh Dickinson).
In Missouri's other five games, the Tigers (6-3) only outrebounded one opponent, Richmond, 34-33.
“I think the forwards, they’ve got to be able to step it up a little bit more in terms of rebounding,” said coach Mike Anderson during Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “We’ve got to get some guys get some double-figures in rebounds. And not only that, provide some scoring (too).”
None of Missouri’s three most-used forwards – Keith Ramsey, Laurence Bowers and Justin Safford – are averaging near double figures. Ramsey comes closest with six rebounds per game, followed by Bowers (5.6) and Safford (3.2).
Missouri could get more out of Safford as he recovers from a joint spur between his left ankle and foot that has caused him irritation.
“He had been kind of slowed down with injuries, and I think he got kind of frustrated,” Anderson said.
Despite dominating Fairleigh Dickinson (1-10) on Saturday, Missouri was outrebounded in the first half. A trend throughout the season has been the Tigers playing solid defense for an entire possession only to give up a basket because of an offensive rebound and putback.
“To me the finishing part of our defense is rebounding, so I think we’ve got to get better in that department,” Anderson said.
Freshman phenom: Kansas coach Bill Self wants to make sure Kentucky standout John Wall isn’t the only freshman getting attention.
Xavier Henry, who spurned Memphis for Kansas after John Calipari left Memphis to coach at Kentucky, is the Jayhawks’ leading scorer averaging almost five more points per game than senior Sherron Collins.
Henry and Wall, the two highest-touted freshmen in the country before the season, have eerily similar numbers through the first month of their freshman seasons. Wall barely edges Henry in scoring (18.1 to 18 points per game), while both average 4.1 rebounds. Wall’s advantage is in assists – he averages 7.1 compared to Henry’s 1.8. But Wall is averaging seven more minutes per game than Henry and is the clear go-to player for No. 3 Kentucky, while No. 1 Kansas has the experienced Collins.
“Xavier’s numbers are very comparable to what John has done, and he’s been very consistent doing it,” Self said.
More impressive than Henry’s scoring is his ability to do it efficiently. He’s shooting almost 56 percent on field goals and over 53 percent on 3-pointers. In the Jayhawks’ win against La Salle on Saturday, Henry scored a season-high 31 points while taking just 15 shots.
“For a scorer’s mentality, to only take that many (shots) is remarkable to me,” Self said.
Supporting evidence: Before the season started, Big 12 coaches fought vocally for their conference, often overshadowed by older leagues like the ACC, Big East and Big Ten. During the conference's media day in October, several of them called the Big 12 the best conference in the country.
Talk is cheap, but so far Big 12 teams are backing up their coaches’ claims.
The conference’s teams have lost a combined 20 games, the fewest of any conference. Big 12 teams are 5-1 against teams in the Associated Press Top 25, and the league has five of its teams in the poll, including the top two (Kansas and Texas). The other three are No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 17 Kansas State and No. 23 Texas A&M.