If you were to look back a few weeks at the Missouri Tigers
, you would think things were going really well for them. They had an historically great season, they won the Big XII
conference tournament, and were looking at a top seed in the NCAA Tournament
They had perhaps the best guard corps in the nation, with Phil Pressey
an emerging star at point and an early-season player of the year candidate in Marcus Denmon
. Their sixth man, Michael Dixon
, would have been a number one guard on the depth chart in most places. Kim English
had finally become the player so many believed he could be all along, displaying a pure shooting touch to rival that of any player in the nation and a defensive tenacity he had never shown before. The preseason clouds caused by the controversial hire of Frank Haith
and the shocking loss to injury of Laurence Bowers
had entirely dissipated. It was blue skies all the way for the Tigers.
Look now, and Mizzou's dream season has become a nightmare. And it could still get worse.
The Tigers put together the worst showing of any Big XII team in the NCAA Tournament this year, losing in the first round to a 15 seed, only the fifth time in tournament history a two had gone down the first game out. (The Duke Blue Devils
did help take some of the spotlight off the Tigers by becoming the sixth team to lose their first game as a two seed about two and a half hours later, which was awfully nice of them, but still.) They lost to unheralded Norfolk State
in a game which exposed all the Tigers' most glaring weaknesses, namely a real lack of inside presence, which was only exacerbated by an injury to Kim English which kept the MVP of the Big XII tourney from making any kind of impact at all.
It got worse from there, as Norfolk State went on to get simply annihilated by Florida in the next round. If Norfolk had gone on one of those historic George Mason kind of runs, it would have been a little less heart-wrenching to have lost to them. Sometimes teams have a little bit of destiny on their side. Such was not the case for Norfolk State. Missouri lost to a team which then went on to lose to a Florida team by 34 points. A Florida team which, in theory at least, should have been an inferior squad to Mizzou. Sadly, whether they should have been or not, Florida made Norfolk look like the first-time March Madness entrant they were; 84-50 is not a good result.
While Frank Haith's Tigers proved unable to win a game, Rick Majerus's St. Louis University Billikens had no such problems, beating a very good Memphis Tigers team in the opening round with a brilliantly executed defensive masterpiece. Compared to the Tigers' complete lack of pressure in their loss, the Billikens' defensive effort barely looked like the same sport. So much for being the big basketball story in the state of Missouri. The Billikens did bow out in the next round to top-seeded Michigan State, but that's very different from laying an egg against Norfolk State. Though both teams are Spartans, technically.
The Tigers won the conference tournament and were the highest-ranked team in the Big XII at the end of the season. Both Baylor and Kansas, though, went on to reach the Elite Eight while Mizzou failed to win a single game. Iowa State didn't make the round of eight, losing to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but they still showed far better than Missouri. Again, as with the Billikens losing to Michigan State, losing to the overall number one in the Sweet Sixteen is very respectable. What happened to the Tigers is not.
Baylor and Kansas both made it to the Elite Eight; things got even worse for Missouri over the weekend as the Jayhawks moved on to the Final Four in New Orleans. This was supposed to the be the season the Tigers finally broke their string of tournament appearances without a trip to the Final Four. Instead, they're at home now watching Kansas play their way ever closer to yet another shot at a title. Just like every other year.
So, to review: since the end of the Big XII tournament the Tigers have lost to a 15th-seeded small school which was then blown out in their very next game by a Florida team Mizzou would have been fairly heavily favored against, seen every other Big XII team in the tourney go further than them, been upstaged by the 'other' team from Missouri in the big dance, watched two of their rivals, one of whom they beat three times, advance to the Elite Eight, and now Kansas is once again poised to play for a national championship.
As good as the season was for Missouri, it seems now they're right back where they usually are, looking up at other Big XII teams and trying to answer their own questions about where they go from here.
It's all very depressing, really.