We are only a month into the 2011-12 college basketball season, but we have seen some very positive signs coming from our local programs, Missouri, Saint Louis University and Illinois. Simply put, the play from these three teams has been outstanding.
The three programs have a combined 23-1 record and are playing some excellent basketball to start the season. All three fan bases have a lot to cheer for so for after a great month of November. The boys have been ballin’ up a storm so far this season and it has been fun to watch.
The Missouri Tigers are 7-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country. First-year head coach Frank Haith has the Tigers playing with great chemistry and teamwork. Despite the loss of top frontcourt player Laurence Bowers to a season-ending knee injury, the Tigers have not missed a beat. They blew through the CBE Classic with impressive wins over Notre Dame and California to win the championship in two decisive blowouts.
The Tigers are explosive on offense, averaging 86 points a game. Their four-guard offense has given opposing teams fits. Mizzou has five players averaging in double figures, led by seniors Marcus Denmon and Kim English, who both average 18 points a game. Guards Matt and Phil Pressey, Marcus Dixon and forward Ricardo Ratliffe have also been potent contributors to the cause.
Surprise at SLU
Saint Louis University has been one of the nation’s pleasant surprises with its 7-1 record in November. The Billikens won the Anaheim 76 Classic with double-digit victories over BCS opponents Boston College, Villanova and Oklahoma. Before heading West, the Billikens scored a convincing 77-64 victory over a highly-regarded Washington team from the Pac-12.
With its hot start, SLU achieved its first Top 25 ranking in 17 years. Coach Rick Majerus has his veteran team playing sound fundamental basketball on both ends of the floor. The Billikens share the basketball and shot the 3-pointer with great accuracy. Senior forward Brian Conklin has emerged as a force, averaging 17 points a game. The return of junior guard Kwamain Mitchell has been huge while junior Cody Ellis has been a big scorer off the bench. The Billikens are nine-deep, which enables them to play tenacious defense for 40 minutes. Senior Kyle Cassity provides veteran leadership while sophomores Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall, Jr. and Rob Loe are a year older and year wiser.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber has his team off to a 8-0 start, including a 71-62 victory at Maryland in the Big Ten-ACC challenge and a victory over Gonzaga last weekend. The addition of senior point guard Sam Maniscalco has been big for the Illini. The transfer from Bradley has provided solid point guard play and leadership for what is a fairly young team. Maniscalco is also averaging a team-high 13 points a game while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. Junior guard D.J. Richardson averages 13 points a game while 7’0” sophomore Meyers Leonard is averaging 12.3 points, 6.7 points while shooting 57 percent from the field. Lafayette High product Tyler Griffey has been solid at power forward. Illinois will face No. 18 Gonzaga on Saturday in a big early-season test.
Congratulations to Mizzou, SLU and Illinois on their early-season success. If this keeps up, we should all enjoy a great winter around here. It is also time to see some sellout crowds at these places as well. These young men have provided some stellar play and entertainment for the college basketball fan, so get out there and support it. You will not be disappointed.