Before the 2009-2010 season began, coach Mike Anderson knew where his team's priorities would lie.
"They understand our team is going to be a team that hangs our hats on defense," Anderson said at a preseason news conference. "Every time you hear me beat the drum, it's going to be about our defense. Our defense will create some easy offense."
The offense didn't come so easy at times, but the Tigers pressed themselves to a 23-11 record and again received an invitation to the Big Dance.
Despite losing three 1,000-point scorers, the Tigers got back to the NCAA Tournament and were stopped from making their second straight Sweet 16 by a West Virginia team that made it to the Final Four. Missouri's win total gave them a two-year sum of 54, one away from the highest in school history.
Not many in the conference thought the Tigers could accomplish those feats at the beginning of the year. Picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason coaches poll, the Tigers would end up proving those predictions wrong by finishing third.
But it didn't always look like Missouri would finish closer to the top of the conference than the bottom.
Things got off to a bumpy start in the first month of the regular season when the Tigers came out of the gate 5-3. A one-point loss at Oral Roberts on Dec. 9 was their third in four games and created some doubt as to whether the Tigers could replace all the offense they lost the previous season.
Swallowing that bitter pill, Missouri ripped off seven straight wins to finish non-conference play. Included in that streak was an 81-68 victory over Illinois on Dec. 23, the first Tiger triumph over the Fighting Illini in a decade.
"We're the ultimate team," said sophomore guard Kim English, who scored 24 points that night. "We don't have any go-to guys. We're just the ultimate team. Mike Dixon stepped up, (sophomore center) Steve Moore played amazing. We're finally starting to figure out who we are."
Missouri kept the ball rolling for the first two games of Big 12 play by beating No. 11 Kansas State at home and notching an overtime win over Texas Tech on the road. The Tigers seemed to be hitting their stride when their shooting touch left them in a 66-61 loss at Oklahoma on Jan. 16. After shooting 35.9 percent in that game, offensive doldrums again spelled doom against Kansas on Jan. 25. One game after beating Oklahoma State, Missouri's 32-game home win streak was snapped by Texas A&M on Feb. 3.
Missouri recovered to win five of their next six before falling at Kansas State on Feb. 27. But the previous game might have spelled a bigger loss for the Tigers. In a blowout win over Colorado on Feb. 24, junior forward Justin Safford went down with what ended up being a season-ending tear of his ACL.
The loss of Safford meant Missouri was without one of their starting big men, and forwards senior Keith Ramsey and sophomore Laurence Bowers shouldered a larger load for the rest of the season.
Missouri finished the regular season with a thrilling overtime victory at Iowa State thanks to some heroics from senior guard Zaire Taylor but followed it with a 21-point loss to Kansas.
Things didn't get much better as the Big 12 Tournament got underway in Kansas City a few days later. Starting off cold and never able to recover, the No. 5-seeded Tigers fell to No. 12 seed Nebraska 75-60 in the first round.
"Today just felt like it was kind of like Murphy's Law," Tiller said. "What could go wrong will go wrong."
Despite the loss, Missouri still had some NCAA Tournament-worthy victories on its resume, and the Tigers were selected as the No. 10 seed in the East Region and assigned to play Clemson in Buffalo.
In a game featuring two teams with similar up-tempo styles, Missouri triumphed on March 19 with an 86-78 victory. But the sweetness of the victory would be short-lived. Against No. 2 seed West Virginia two days later, the Tigers failed to contain senior swingman Da'Sean Butler, and the Mountaineers advanced with a 68-59 win.
For the Tigers, the end of the season was quickly met with promise regarding next year's team. Recruit Tony Mitchell was named the Dallas Morning News Player of the Year in late March, and the Tigers' recruiting class has received high marks.
Mitchell and the other recruits will look to help fill the voids left by the departing Tiller, Taylor and Ramsey.
"When you lose three starters from this team, three guys that were starting for us, hopefully the competition begins in the off season," Anderson said after the loss to West Virginia. "As we get prepared for 2010, 2011. We'll find out. But I think there will be some candidates. I promise you that."