By Nate Bukaty
1. Denmon was the difference. This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking statement. Anybody can look at the box score and see Denmon’s 29 points. Anybody who watched the game saw Denmon go on a breathtaking 9-0 run during the most crucial stretch of the game. In the most obvious news of the day, the Kansas City native was named the Conference Big 12 Player of the Week. This might seem like hindsight, but you could see a game like this coming for Denmon from a mile off. Back on Friday, Steven St. John and I both predicted a breakout game from the Tigers’ senior. It was impossible to envision such a good shooter remaining in a slump for a prolonged period of time. And he didn’t.
2. Dixon was the difference. I realize I just explained why Denmon was the difference. But without Dixon, I don’t think Denmon gets the chance to play hero, and here’s why: Michael Dixon forced Bill Self into playing a rotation that featured Conner Teahan during the most crucial stretch of the game. Before the game we were all wondering how the Robinson-vs-English matchup would shake down. But when the game started, Robinson wasn’t guarding English. Instead, in a clever coaching move, Self had Robinson guard Matt Pressey. It was clear that Self was the least concerned about Matt’s offensive game, among the Tiger starters. But in the game’s final minutes, Dixon was on the floor instead of Pressey. I believe that caused Self to keep Teahan on the floor, instead of Jeff Withey. With Dixon on the floor, Missouri had four explosive scoring guards. Who knows if another defender would’ve had more success against Denmon during that crucial stretch? It didn’t look like anyone would’ve stopped him at that time. But any oddsmaker would like Denmon’s chances matched up against Teahan over any of the starting KU guards. I don’t think that matchup continues without Dixon’s presence.
3. Don’t blame Taylor: Tyshawn Taylor attempted to take the responsibility for KU’s loss. “I feel like I cost us the game,” he said. “And that is a sucky feeling.” Yes, Taylor was responsible for two of the Jayhawks’ four turnovers in the game’s final minutes. And yes, Taylor missed two free throws that could have given Kansas the lead with 41 seconds to play. But Kansas fans should not judge their senior point guard so harshly. If Taylor doesn’t play, KU loses that game by double digits. They’re likely never even in the game. Taylor was the best player on the floor in the first half. Throughout the game he was fantastic defensively. He forced Phil Pressey into one of his worst offensive days of the season: 2 points, 3 assists, and 3 turnovers. Taylor made too many mistakes at the end, as did the rest of his teammates, but where would Kansas have been without him?
4. Don’t blame the refs: Immediately following the game, my twitter feed was flooded with KU fans complaining about the officiating. I get it. It’s part of what fans do. Blame the refs. It just doesn’t sit well with me. Many Kansas fans are up in arms about the charge call on Robinson with 1:45 to play. Many fans pointed out to me the foul discrepancy of 20 on KU and just 10 on Missouri. Maybe the Tigers got a friendly whistle on Saturday night. But my response to that: so what? Show me a team in league play who hasn’t felt like the whistles went against them on the road. It’s hard to get calls when you’re away from home. That’s part of the deal. Regardless of the officiating, Kansas had many chances to put that game away, and they were unable to do so. The refs didn’t keep Robinson from touching the ball on the last four possessions. The refs didn’t force Robinson into two poor shots when he should have been looking to kill some clock with 2:25 to play. The refs didn’t force Tyshawn Taylor to miss two free throws with the game on the line. No doubt, Missouri fans will likely complain that the calls are going against them when this game gets replayed on Feb 25th, and my response to them will be the same. Save it.
5. Which team is better? I come away from this game still not sure of the answer to that question. For the first time since at least 1990, I went into this game thinking that Missouri probably had the better team. Ironically, despite the fact that KU lost the game, I don’t come away feeling the same way. Kansas controlled much of this ballgame, on the road. Now, that doesn’t mean that KU is the better team. I just don’t quite think that Missouri has the edge that I did before this game. Most people probably think that KU will win the rematch at home. Perhaps this will be decided by one final game at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City. It almost feels like that’s the way is should be.
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