On Wednesday and Thursday, coaches and select players from each of the Big 12 teams gathered in Kansas City for the conference's Media Days. This was the last time they would join before next year’s conference realignment.
“This time of the year, I guess your body tells you that basketball is really, really in the air,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I’m excited about this group. It is year five, and we hope to make another move to another level in Tiger basketball.”
Missouri is ranked No. 15 in the preseason coaches’ poll, and it's the first time the team has appeared on the list since 2003.
“These expectations are, more than anything else, a reflection of what’s taking place in our program," Anderson said. "It’s a reflection of how our program is really rising.”
The players are also hoping to match the expectations set by the preseason rankings.
“It feels good to have people talking about us," senior forward Justin Safford said. "It means we’re doing something right. I’m very excited to be a part of the team this season. I expect us to do very well.”
Like Stafford, many players’ ultimate goal is to become Big 12 champions and then to win the NCAA Tournament this season.
“Those are the goals that are down the line that we’re going to set but not think about every day," junior guard Kim English said. "Our goal right now is just simply to get better each and every day and take it one day at a time. It’s a cliché, but right now, our first exhibition is all we’re worried about. But hopefully that’ll lead to the trophy.”
On the women’s side of things, Missouri is welcoming new coach Robin Pingeton. Pingeton, who spent the last seven years as the coach of Illinois State and was named Missouri Valley Conference’s Coach of the Year in 2004, said she is very excited for the upcoming season.
“We’re taking over a big program," she said. "I have pretty high expectations, but I also think you have to be realistic. When you’re in the best conference in the nation, it will take some time.”
Pingeton's players are also enthusiastic about their new coach.
“I am very happy," senior forward Shakara Jones said. "It’ll take a while to get used to, but it’s been a good change overall." Jones also said there's a need to take the games one at a time.
"I don’t want to set the bar too high, so I want to take it game by game," she said. "But I would like to finish at least in the top six of the Big 12, and with Pingeton, I think we can reach that.”
Unranked nationally, Missouri is No. 11 in the Big 12 preseason poll, ranked ahead of only Colorado, who will begin their last season in the Big 12. Starting next year, the Big 12 will lose two teams in the conference: Nebraska and Colorado.
But, both Tiger basketball teams are optimistic about the conference realignment.
“It’s going to be a beast now, because of what’s about to take place,” Anderson said. “These teams leaving, I think, will only make the conference stronger. I think the best conference in the country just got tougher. Now there will be a true champion, no question about that."
But like the women's team, Anderson is on the smaller picture.
"But right now, all of my focus is on this season," he said. "It’s going to be a challenge. It’ll be a tough road ahead, but take it one step at a time is what we’ll do. And I know Mizzou will succeed.”