Ah, always nice to see college basketball season roll around again, if for no other reason than I can use my favorite picture.
Last night was a very good night for the University of Missouri
men's basketball team. Playing on a national stage -- ESPN
, and not The Ocho -- in the early game of the Jimmy V. Classic
in Madison Square Garden
, the Tigers
posted another double digit victory (just barely, sure, but still, double digits all the same), beating the Wildcats
The win took the 10th ranked Tigers to 8-0 on the season, and provided the brightest spotlight Mizzou has had since their Elite 8 run in the NCAA tournament in 2009. The Villanova of 2011 isn't quite the same 'Nova powerhouse we've become accustomed to seeing the past few years, but there's still plenty enough talent on Jay Wright's team to make them a tough draw for any team.
The Tigers' extraordinary start has also provided a much-needed focus for the program and new coach Frank Haith away from Haith's unpopular hiring and the allegations he was heavily involved with the litany of violations committed at the University of Miami related to Nevin Shapiro. Winning cures an awful lot of ills, and so far under Haith the Tigers have done nothing but win.
The game last night also provided a perfect showcase for the talents of Phil Pressey
, who ruled the floor despite recording just one basket on the evening. Enduring an horrific night shooting -- just one of eight from the floor -- Pressey set a new career high for assists with twelve and completely dictated the flow of the game the whole time he was on the court.
Marcus Denmon was really the majority of the scoring offense, putting up 28 points and sinking 6 three-pointers for the Tigers. Denmon's name is still relatively unknown outside of Mizzou, or at least Big XII, country, but I don't think that's going to be the case much longer. The Tigers have one of the most dynamic guard combinations in all of college basketball in Pressey and Denmon, and the rest of the hoops world is just starting to notice.
Missouri actually didn't play their best game, with both Pressey and Kim English getting into foul trouble early and the team as whole having an off night shooting. The Tigers are shooting 52.5 percent from the field on the season -- fourth best in the country -- but managed to shoot just over 42% last night. What's most amazing is how little it mattered. Villanova hung around, thanks to the Tigers' weak shooting and their own tough play, but in the end Mizzou was never seriously threatened at any point after opening up a sixteen point lead early in the first half.
Make no mistake; this is a remarkably good basketball team. It's fair to hold off on the parade preparations at least until they make it into conference play, but watching them play this year this team has simply outclassed their opponents in every single game. The one vulnerability for the Tigers this season may be one of the same bugaboos we've seen from Mike Anderson-constructed teams forever, and that's the lack of a real big man, a physical threat who can camp out in the paint and make things happen down low. Ricardo Ratliffe has done solid work so far under the basket, but he isn't a true low post player.
Whether the lack of an inside threat will eventually catch up with the Tigers is something we'll only know when it happens -- or doesn't. For now, things are looking up in a big way for the Mizzou basketball program.