Against Kansas a week ago, Missouri's starters played the Jayhawks' starting five to a surprising stalemate in the early part of Missouri's 103-86 loss in Lawrence. Instead, it was the early bench contributions of Mario Little and Travis Releford that punished Missouri and bought the Jayhawks time to get rolling at home. Last Saturday, the bench scoring statistics swung back in Mizzou's favor, as they generally do when Mike Anderson's teams play close to their ceiling. Against a thinner, less-experienced Oklahoma team, Mizzou won the bench scoring battle, 42-16.
The strength of the "second line" is a bit of an odd bellwether for Missouri. Mizzou's bench advantage often shows up biggest against its weakest opponents, where teams with thin benches lack the capacity to close the energy gap. In games in which Mizzou's bench is a luxury, it rolls. In games in which Mizzou's bench is a necessity, well... this narrative is still being written for 2011.
If all goes according to plan against Texas Tech on Tuesday, the bench should once again be a luxury for the Tigers.
But more disconcerting for Texas Tech might be the play of its starters, particularly point guard John Roberson, who has struggled throughout his career to consistently handle Mizzou's on-the-ball pressure. Roberson's matchup with freshman point guard Phil Pressey will showcase the old and new of highly regarded point guards out of the Dallas area. For Roberson, Tech's struggles means the matchup comes as part of his career's denouement. For Pressey and the presumably tournament-bound Tigers, the early chapters are still being written.