Commentary: Mizzou needs to hold up its end of the Border War
LAWRENCE, KS--In the minutes before Missouri and Kansas tipped off on Saturday, I felt like I should walk into the concourse of Allen Fieldhouse and find a hidden corner on which to carve my initials and the date. Just to prove I was here. It had been 3,577 days since I’d been in this building, two months and two weeks short of ten of ten years since Missouri had played here. The occasion seemed like it should be commemorated, at least in some small and unnoticeable way.
For the two hours before the game you could almost convince yourself nothing had really changed. The line of Kansas students stretched around the building before they opened the doors. I ran into most of the same media members I used to see once a year when I’d come over to cover the Border War. Once the teams were on the floor, the Kansas student section booed Mizzou at full throat from the first layup in warmups. They played the same chill- (or vomit, depending on your point of view) inducing video introduction (with the “Outlaw Josey Wales” clip but without Grandpa Abe Simpson) and the building seemed to vibrate.
Only when the game started did you realize how different it is now. On February 25, 2012, in a game that would decide the Big 12 title and ultimately a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Missouri took a top-five Kansas team to the brink, losing in overtime thanks to Marcus Denmon’s last-second shot going in a little too late and some questionable (that word doesn’t seem strong enough) officiating—not necessarily in that order.
At least one thing hasn’t changed in nine years. The Jayhawks shot 13 free throws in the first half on their way to a 49-27 lead. Missouri shot two. The Tigers were whistled for 11 fouls and Kansas for four. I don’t want to pretend that lopsidedness changed the outcome of this game, or even the margin. It didn’t. Nine years ago, it took a miraculous second half by Kansas AND help from the zebras to walk off of their home court with a win over Missouri. On Saturday, they got the help early, but they didn’t need it.
The final tally was Kansas 102, Missouri 65. And the worst part is that it wasn’t a surprise. If these teams played 50 times, the margin might be that big in 40 of them. This isn’t a Kansas team that has the talent of some of the vintage ones Missouri faced in the Big 12. Don’t get me wrong, the Jayhawks are good, but I don’t see the elite next-level talent on this team that I’ve watched in this building before. And still, Missouri looked like it was playing a different sport.
"We just lost the game in my opinion," Cuonzo Martin said when asked about the game being a measuring stick for his program. "We lost to a good team."
Javon Pickett made his first five shots and scored 13 points in the first half. Kobe Brown has already proven he’s capable of being a contributor on an NCAA Tournament level team, but sat the last 8:41 of the first half with two fouls while Kansas outscored the Tigers 21-6 because Cuonzo Martin seemed to think it was more important to have Brown on the floor for the second half of a game that was over than risk a third foul when Mizzou trailed by only seven points.
Other than that, I struggled to find a player who looked like he could compete against this level of competition. DaJuan Gordon is athletic enough and at least didn't seem intimidated and showed some flashes on his way to ten points. Other than that?
Amari Davis did not score and finished minus-40 in 25 minutes.
Jordan Wilmore had one rebound, two points, three turnovers and four fouls--including a technical--as Mizzou was outscored by 16 in his eight minutes.
Ronnie DeGray had five points and a rebound in 20 minutes in which the Tigers were outscored by 23.
And those are the guys who are supposed to be this team's better players.
Freshmen Anton Brookshire, Yaya Keita and Kaleb Brown combined for three points in 39 minutes. Sean Durogordon did have 11 and Trevon Brazile ten, though virtually all of them came late in the second half with the freshmen getting thrown to the wolves in a game that was long over.
It is unfortunate that this rivalry returned at a time when Missouri’s product on the floor can’t do it justice. There have been other times like that in this series. The Tigers have been blown out on this floor and their own. But nobody beat Kansas as often as Mizzou did for the 45 years between Norm Stewart’s arrival at his alma mater and the Tigers’ departure for the SEC, Mizzou won 40 games in the series and lost 60. Between 1968 and 1990, the Tigers were 27-26 against their rivals.
In those 45 years, Kansas won 60 percent of its games against Missouri. In the other 1,341 games they played, the Jayhawks won 76.4% of them. So nobody’s going to say the Tigers bullied the Jayhawks, but don’t let anybody convince you that they didn’t hold their own. The rivalry was a rivalry.
Now? Nobody in Missouri’s program has ever been a part of it. After Saturday, it could be argued they still haven't. In their first shot, they were as uncompetitive as every Tiger fan feared they would be.
This series will continue for at least five more seasons. It’s really up to Missouri whether it will keep going after that. A rivalry’s not a rivalry if one team never wins. On Saturday, it looked like the Tigers were every bit of half a decade from being able to compete with the Jayhawks. But a lot can change in a few years. Saturday proved that, too.
Martin wasn't going to bite on questions about the gap between the programs or the state of the rivalry.
"I guess if you're keeping the score, it's one zero," Missouri's coach said. "That's it."
But the coach doesn't have to go fire and brimstone or talk about how far his program has to go to catch the one Missouri tried to catch--and sometimes did--for so many years. All the evidence anyone needed was displayed on the court for 40 minutes on Saturday. Kansas is every bit of 37 points better than Missouri. And, really, that's not even as big an issue as the fact that Florida State is 23 points better and UMKC is 14 better and Liberty is 21 better.
I’ve made no bones about the fact I’m glad the schools came together and got this game going again. Both programs are better when it’s played. College basketball is better when it’s played. But the next five years are important. If Missouri can’t make enough strides to make it interesting, I’ll be singing a different tune in 2026. It’s the Tigers’ responsibility to up their game and make this series worth of its history. If they can’t do it, next time around, they should be the ones throwing a tantrum, taking their ball and going home.