Lost in the high rankings and great play in the middle of the season for Missouri — before last night's stunning loss to Oklahoma State, of course — has been star senior guard Marcus Denmon's subpar play over the last month and a half.
Denmon got off to a scorching start this season, scoring more than 20 points in six of the first nine Missouri games this season. He was averaging 21.3 points per game, shooting 53.3 percent from the floor and knocking down 49.2 percent of his three point tries in those games and creating a buzz around a team that didn't have too many preseason expectations. Denmon was also playing great defense, had only turned the ball over four times all year and was even doing well on the boards for his size (5.3 rebounds per game).
Because of this start, the 6-3 guard from Kansas City was getting well-deserved national praise, being called one of the top five players in the nation in the early part of the season. That praise culminated in Denmon being named a Wooden Award Finalist (top 25), given to the top player in the nation at the end of the year.
Then, something happened. As far as the general public knows, nothing changed physically or mentally for Denmon after the game against Navy on Dec. 10, but since then, the leader of the Tigers has seen his level of play decrease significantly.
Over the last 11 games, Denmon has scored more than 20 points only one time and is averaging only 14.5 points per game in that stretch on 38.5 percent shooting (31 percent from 3-point land). The struggle was most evident in last night's loss to Oklahoma State, when Denmon routinely forced shots and finished 4-of-16 from the floor (2-of-8 from 3-point land) in a 17-point performance.
It's been obvious to viewers of Missouri basketball that Denmon has been forcing his offense over the past month and a half more than any other point in his career. That could be because of all the national praise he has received, or because he feels like the leader of his team and that he is responsible for taking control of the scoring load.
The stats help confirm that he has been forcing things recently. Denmon was a high volume shooter early in the season, but that was when he was hot and hitting nearly everything he took (as well as the weaker competiton). Even though he is only shooting 38.5 percent from the floor in his last 11 games, he is still averaging over 11 shots per game compared to 12.5 early in the season.
That shows that he has backed off a little bit, but probably not as much as he should based on his performance. RIcardo Ratliffe has been a force to be reckoned with in Big 12 play, so Denmon should start looking to run the offense through him if his play does not improve.
The Tigers also have many other capable shooters such as Kim English, Matt Pressey and Michael Dixon, so Denmon must realize that he doesn't have to carry his team like he was forced to at times last season.
The best thing that could happen for Missouri would be that Denmon finds his stroke again late in the season and is able to get his scoring average back up into the 20's. But even if he doesn't, the senior guard has to be able to do what he did so well in his first three seasons as a Tiger: let the game come to him.