Mizzou basketball notes: What a wild Saturday means for Wednesday’s Braggin’ Rights

Jarrett Sutton played double-digit minutes for the first time in his career in Mizzou's Dec. 18 win over Central Arkansas. (Photo by Karen Mitchell)

The only way Central Arkansas would’ve belonged on the floor with the Tigers at Mizzou Arena Saturday would have been if UCA alum Scottie Pippen suited up for the Bears.

Mizzou clobbered UCA 116-63 to set a new points record for Mizzou Arena, which previously was 107 set in each of the last two seasons. While UCA was ranked No. 320 out of 345 teams by stats guru Ken Pomeroy coming into Saturday’s action, that Mizzou scored 116 points while missing three players is at least mildly impressive.

Thanks to Michael Dixon and Matt Pressey missing Saturday’s game, Jarrett Sutton played a career-high 11 minutes. He got a rare look in the first half, which speaks both to Mizzou’s stretched guard depth and dominance over UCA—when Sutton entered the game, Mizzou was up by about 30 points.

  • But the big-picture story from Saturday’s game was Phil Pressey’s continued fantastic play. In the freshman’s last three games he’s totaled 27 assists, including 11 Saturday against UCA. While his five turnovers against UCA aren’t ideal, he’s only coughed the ball up seven times over those three games while forcing five steals. And, what’s more, Pressey has been incredibly efficient from the floor in those three games. He’s hit 12 of 18 shots—including a 6/8 performance Saturday—to total 28 points against Presbyterian, Oral Roberts, and UCA.
  • Okay, those aren’t great opponents. But, to paraphrase a knee-slapper from Mike Anderson, Pressey was pressing in his first eight games at Mizzou. After his abysmal performances in Cancun Nov. 23 and 24 (3/18 shooting, four turnovers, four assists in 39 minutes), Pressey saw his minutes cut as Mizzou entered its crucial stretch against Georgetown (0 minutes), Oregon (14 minutes), and Vanderbilt (16 minutes). Good reps are good reps, and Pressey has done plenty of good things in the last three games, regardless of who the opponent is. His feel for the game is starting to translate into high assist totals, and while he hasn’t quite figured out what he can and cannot get away with defensively, he’s looking more and more like an ideal backup point guard in Anderson’s offense.
  • If Pressey’s success in the last three games continues in Wednesday’s game against Illinois, Mizzou has a great chance to win. Michael Dixon hasn’t officially been reinstated to play, but he has been reinstated to practice after serving a two-game suspension for violating a team rule. Presumably, he’ll be the starting point guard for Wednesday’s game against Illinois in St. Louis. That’ll relegate Pressey to a backup role, which means Illinois better be ready to run. As long as Dixon doesn’t have any rust and Pressey doesn’t revert to his early-season play, Mizzou has a great chance of playing the game at their up-tempo pace (72 possessions/game) rather than Illinois’ roughly normal pace (68.5 possessions/game).
  • Speaking of Illinois…yikes. The Illini’s 57-54 defeat at the hands of Illinois-Chicago registers as one of the most shocking upsets of the young college basketball season. Tennessee losing to Charlotte on Friday ranks as a fairly significant upset, but nowhere as near as monumental as UIC’s Saturday shocker against Illinois. Ken Pomeroy gave Illinois a 98 percent chance of winning against a UIC team that had lost four consecutive games and was projected by Pomeroy’s numbers to go 9-21. The game was played on a “neutral” court at the United Center, and while the UC is just a stone’s throw from UIC’s campus, Chicago is an Illinois basketball town with UIC pretty low on the fandom pecking order. While Illinois is far from a great team, 99 times out of 100, they beat UIC. Illinois had successfully navigated a fairly difficult non-conference schedule, beating Maryland, UNC, Gonzaga, and surprising Oakland with its only loss being an overtime—sound familiar?—defeat at the hands of Texas. This loss wasn’t a fluke—that wouldn’t be fair to UIC—but it’s more likely an aberration than a trend in the grand scheme of Illinois’ season.
  • What does that mean for Mizzou’s chances Wednesday, then? In reality, Illinois’ loss to UIC probably doesn’t mean much. Maybe it’ll serve as a wake-up call to the Illini, leading them to play with a higher level of focus and energy. Or maybe UIC exposed a few of Illinois’ weaknesses—for instance, Illinois’ poor ability to get the free throw line (which arguably is the team’s greatest weakness). Either way, it goes without saying that Mizzou can’t allow the UIC game to change how they approach Illinois—it needs to be approached like the team’s last shot at a signature non-conference win, something to heal the wounds left from Mizzou’s heartbreaking loss to Georgetown.

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