First up, the daunting #9 Missouri Tigers.
Missouri has flourished under the tutelage of head coach Mike Anderson. More to the point, CU hasn't beaten Mizzou since he arrived on campus, taking over for the disgraced Quin Snyder (boy was I sad when that douche left). Coach Anderson has given the Tigers an aggressive, intense identity; allowing the team's athleticism to shine through. Learned through his years assisting under former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, his brand of "the Fastest 40 minutes in Basketball" (also known as 40 minutes of Hell) is a style teams hate to play, and often makes for rough nights; specifically allowing the Tigers to beat the Buffs by an average of 17 points per matchup since 2007. Tough, in your face defense keys the Tigers, allowing them to get easy looks on the offensive end. They rely (obviously) on a fast tempo and athletic play from every position to make the team work.
(Coach Anderson has turned out to be a fantastic hire for the Tigers)
The Tigers are keyed by the stellar Junior guard duo of Marcus Denmon and Kim English. The 6'3" Denmon has made some serious leaps as a player over the past two years, and comes in averaging 17/4/2. He's a tough little bastard, and has a knack for finding lanes. The 6'6" English has been a matchup problem since he blew onto the national radar with his Freshman year performance in the Tourney. He's plateaued since that Tourney run gave him the national cred, but he's still a clutch shooter who can be a nightmare. His averages this year are 11/3/3.
The guy I am most afraid of, however, is Ricardo Ratliffe. He was the #1 JuCo recruit from last years recruiting cycle, and his bulky 6'8" frame will allow him to murder CU inside. I can almost guarantee that he'll grab a double-double Saturday, and fully expect him to be the difference in the game.
(I expect Ratliffe to be a thorn in the Buffs side)
Opponents Season so Far
Mizzou has got it going on this year. They've vaulted into the top 10 by having only one blemish on their record: an overtime loss to Georgetown in a "neutral site game" played in Kansas City. Overall their non conference schedule isn't that impressive, but, by that measure, neither is ours. Credit to them for going on the road to beat Oregon, and for beating Illinois in the always tough Braggin' Rights Game (a game that I grew up watching as a yearly tradition). With their 13-1 start, fans in Columbia are thinking of challenging for the conference title; I certainly won't doubt them at this point. They're first in the conference in both points scored and allowed per game, showing that they have both the offensive firepower and the defensive toughness to make a legitimate challenge for the top of the league.
For a trip down memory lane, check out the boxscore of the Missouri/Northern Illinois game from Dec 27th. The Tigers beat the Huskies (lead by former CU coach Ricardo Patton) 97-61. Former Buff standout Xavier Silas had 8 points on 2 of 12 shooting. Good showing Big X!
(The Tigers had an easy time silencing Silas and the Patton-led Huskies)
Sigh.... CU hasn't won a conference opener since the first year of the Big XII (beating Nebraska 79-73 in Boulder); having now dropped their last 13 openers. I don't expect that losing trend to change Saturday.
Offensively we match up pretty well; if you look at the conference leader boards, offensive categories are usually spotted with Mizzou and CU somewhere in the top 3, and, even against Mizzou's tough D, I expect CU to score bunches. Defensively, of course, it's another issue entirely. I can't see how we're going to be able to hold back the Tigers, and while they can't rebound (8th in the conference in both offensive and defensive boards) we are even worse (10th in both categories).
Maybe the larger home crowd will spur the Buffs on to a stellar defensive effort... Maybe the new addition of Trent Beckly will make a difference in the paint (LOL, him making a difference is the most laughable idea since putting Ben Mills into a Big XII game)... Maybe the combined offensive force that is Alec Burks and Corey Higgins will catch fire.
I doubt it.
In the end, the Buffs will fall. Pulling a score out of my ass, I'll say 91-78. We simply can't play enough defense to beat a team like Mizzou, even at home. (For the record, Kenpom.com give us a 32% chance to win.)