So the verdict is in, and the Missouri Tigers
ended up a 10 seed, much as I had feared they would following their ignominious defeat
at the hands of Nebraska
in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament
Unfortunate, too, as Mizzou will now head to possibly the toughest bracket of the four, the East, and be forced to play a very good Clemson team in the opening round. Still, it's tough to be all that upset, as the Tigers made the NCAA Tournament in what was very much an in-between year for the program following the departures of Leo Lyons, DeMarre Carroll, and Matt Lawrence. Sure, that 10 seed isn't ideal, especially as the Tigers could have done so much better, but they're back on the dance floor, and anything can happen as long as you get in.
The good news for the Tigers is this: I actually feel pretty good about their chances against Clemson. The Tigers (Clemson, that is), are a very good basketball team, but the Tigers (Missouri, that is), are just a hair better, I think. The two are actually very similar teams, as both employ high-energy, full-court press attacking defenses to create lots of turnovers while running the floor.
Mizzou is probably a shade better on offense, though the loss of Justin Safford brings that closer to even, and the teams are almost exactly equal in scoring defense. Missouri averaged 65.8 points allowed per game this year; Clemson averaged 64.
Where Mizzou has a real advantage is in the turnover creation department, where Mike Anderson's squad ranked 2nd in the nation this year in turnover ratio. Clemson is very good in the department as well, ranking 37th in the nation, but the advantage is clearly on the black-and-gold Tigers' side.
- Tiger style!
Of course, all that could very well go out the window, as Missouri simply hasn't been the same team since Safford's injury. Safford was a big presence for Mizzou during the season, as he created space down low. His 8.6 points per game can be found elsewhere in the Tiger attack, but the work he was able to do on opposing teams' big men won't be as easily replaced. The Tigers are outstanding at guard, particularly when the conversation turns to depth, but they've been short on post presence all season and the loss of Safford has only exasperated the situation. And that's to say nothing of his contributions on defense, where he consistently brings energy and toughness every minute he's on the floor.
The answer, of course, is that Keith Ramsey and Steve Moore will likely be forced to handle an even heavier load of responsibility if Mizzou is going to make any noise in this tournament. Ramsey, in particular, has shouldered much of the burden of filling in for Safford, playing a ton of minutes in the last four games of the Tigers' season. Whether his legs can hold up to the continuous pounding for another couple contests remains to be seen.
In the end, I think the Tigers (Mizzou), pull the upset and beat the Tigers (Clemson). I also think I'll be glad when Mizzou plays a team with a different moniker.
Then again, the second-round opponent for Missouri would almost assuredly be West Virginia, probably good enough to warrant a #1 seed of their own many other years, so maybe I won't be so glad to see the Tigers playing someone else.