He will have approximately two dozen family members and friends cheering for him specifically in a rare home appearance, though Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe said he isn't likely to be nervous or attempt to put on a show.
"Playing at the University of Missouri is beneficial, because they're always on TV," Ratliffe said Thursday on the eve of the Tigers' game at Old Dominion. "They see me play all the time. It's not like their first time seeing me play.
"I'm just trying to do the same thing I do every night, not come out and try to show off. I just want to come out and play hard and do what I do to help us get a win — same as I do every day."
Ratliffe, a senior from Hampton and Kecoughtan High, is one of the keys for the unbeaten and eighth-ranked Tigers (12-0), who present as stiff a challenge as Old Dominion (6-6) has faced in several years.
Mizzou is one of only six remaining unbeaten teams in Division I and is all over the NCAA statistics, collectively and individually. For example, the 6-foot-8 Ratliffe leads the nation in field goal shooting (.762) for a team that's second overall in shooting (.519) and scoring (87.1 ppg).
"I'm not that surprised," Ratliffe (14.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) said of his lofty percentage, "because our guards get good penetration and probably half the shots I take are wide-open layups. Those are the automatic ones. I probably don't take but maybe three or four contested jump shots per game. I'm pretty much taking layups and jump-hooks."
The Tigers are an upperclass-heavy team that often plays three- and four-guard lineups. New coach Frank Haith, the former Miami head man, doesn't employ the same kind of frantic, full-court pressure defense as predecessor Mike Anderson. But he still plays to the team's athletic ability and strengths — ball-handling, decision-making and shooting.
Mizzou leads the nation in scoring margin (plus-25.8 ppg) and is fifth in free-throw percentage (.783). The Tigers are second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.75) and in turnovers per game (9.67). They are the only team in the country with more steals (120) than turnovers (116), and their turnover total is the fewest of any team that's played at least 10 games. They've made 50 more free throws (216) than their opponents have attempted (166).
Their gaudy numbers aren't a product of a soft schedule, either. They bounced Notre Dame by 29, Cal by 39 and Villanova by 10. Last week's 78-74 win against Illinois was their only game decided by single digits.
All with a team that lost one of its best players, guard Laurence Bowers, to a preseason ACL injury.
"I think we expected to play as well as we have at times because there's a lot of confidence," Ratliffe said. "We all know what we can do and we're so close off the court that it helps us on the court."
Ratliffe said that the players spend so much time together that they have a feel for each other's personalities and abilities, which makes communication easier. He and the Tigers have grown together over the past two years.
"I've been working on my attitude, that's probably the biggest thing that stands out," Ratliffe said. "When things aren't going our way as a team or my way as an individual, that's one of the things that my teammates have helped me out with and I've gotten better at handling."
Ratliffe was the Group AAA Player of the Year as a senior at Kecoughtan. Academic issues forced him to attend junior college, where he was a two-time All-American at Central Florida College in Ocala. He set the school single-season and career scoring records (1,653 points) and is one of just 13 players in JUCO history to be named first-team All-American twice.
"I think junior college was a plus for me," he said, "because it got me ready to play at this level. There were a lot of things I needed to work on, mainly my attitude. This year has been by far my best year, in terms of staying positive."
Ratliffe chose Missouri from among several dozen offers and fit in seamlessly. He was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year after averaging 10.6 points and six rebounds per game, and shooting 57.1 percent from the field on an up-tempo, guard-oriented squad that went 23-11 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Ratliffe's game, and his body, have evolved since his prep days. He carried Kecoughtan, averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds per game as a senior, and routinely took perimeter jump shots. But he has bulked up to 240 pounds and hasn't attempted a 3-point shot this season.
"We've got so many shooters, I don't need to do that," Ratliffe said. "I don't really need to shoot on this team. I just need to make sure we have a pretty good inside presence to go along with the great guards we have."
This will be the third consecutive season that the Monarchs have faced Mizzou. Two years ago, the Tigers won 66-61 at a tournament in South Padre Island, Texas. Last year, the Tigers jumped ODU in Columbia, Mo., forcing 21 turnovers on the way to a decisive 81-58 win.
Missouri is the second top-10 team ODU will play this season. The Monarchs competed well in an eventual 52-42 loss to No. 2 Kentucky in Connecticut last month.
"Kentucky tries to overwhelm you with raw talent, just headline kind of guys," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said. "Missouri's guys are experienced and tested in their talent. These are kids we've played against the last couple of years, and I think you gain more respect because they're not new names. They're kids who've been around for years, with multiple NCAA appearances and rankings in the past."
Taylor said that the Monarchs' energy level and efficiency will be paramount against a team as efficient as Mizzou. He stopped short of saying that he intended to slow the pace or turn it into a rugby scrum.
"I expect to see a lot of speed, a lot of 3-point shots," ODU guard Donte Hill said. "Coach (Taylor) calls it 'protecting the Alamo.' If we keep it out of the paint area and keep them out to 22 feet, if we can stay in front of the ball and force them to shoot from long range, I think that will be our best bet."
ODU presents Missouri's first true road game of the season and its final non-conference game. Despite being guard-heavy and thin along the front line, the Tigers believe that they are built for the long haul and a deep postseason run. This season's success and prospects have prompted Ratliffe to shelve his aims for the future.
"Every college basketball player dreams of playing professional basketball," Ratliffe said. "But I'm not focusing on that right now. I'm just trying to focus on the task at hand, which is ODU today and conference play the rest of the season. Whatever happens after the season happens."
WHO: No. 8 Missouri (12-0) at Old Dominion (6-6).
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Constant Center, Norfolk.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times