Column: Time for tougher competition

With coach Mike Anderson's "fastest 40 minutes in basketball," watching Missouri's style of play is the emotional equivalent of Six Flags.

When those free T-shirts start flying into the student section at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers seem invincible. Combined with a uniquely stifling defense, it's no wonder the team has kept the home crowd satisfied for the past 31 games.

But on the road, it's a different story.

Scoreless stretches (some lasting several minutes) leave the team frustrated and looking for answers amidst the opposing team's colors. Screens and picks constitute part of the problem, sure, but Missouri can better prepare themselves for Big 12 road atmospheres through a tougher non-conference schedule, more specifically, a schedule that ranks better than 226th.

In college basketball, playing easier teams is a gamble because a win carries marginal weight, and defeats cause blemishes to the key loss section of a school's resume. It also affects consistency because it's tough to sustain the "fastest 40 minutes" when it only takes 15 minutes against Fairleigh Dickinson.

After defeating Georgia a few weeks ago, Anderson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I don't want to be a team that's going to be up and down...You saw this game and you saw the Illinois game. But did you see the games (Austin Peay and UMKC) in between and the ones before that? What I'm looking for is consistency."

Missouri needs to play schools that demand a full 40 minutes of attention. Otherwise, the team starts to lose focus and pass around the perimeter, eventually settling with jump shots.

"I think sometimes when we're playing lower competition, we don't come out as well," senior forward Keith Ramsey told the Post-Dispatch.

The Tigers have the speed to gain a step on their opponents, and they used it against bigger Georgia and Kansas State teams, driving the lane and immediately causing foul trouble for the opponents' forwards.

Utilizing this strategy on the road against power conference teams takes the crowd out of it and eliminates the streakiness inherent with 3-point attempts and jump shots. Playing tougher teams (some on the road) allows the Tigers to become more comfortable with the system and build confidence heading into the conference season.

A tougher schedule also has effects off the court. Mizzou Arena gains its notoriety as being a tough environment for visitors because of the team's ability to feed off the intensity of sell-out crowds during conference games. During the non-conference schedule, the Arena sits half-full, but the team doesn't need their support.

As a student and a fan, I would love to see the Tigers play power conference schools and force The Antlers to look beyond simply the school's name for material. After drawing 13,336 for Georgia, Mizzou Arena attracted 3,394 for Savannah State. Yes, there was a snowstorm during the game, but would more fans have shown up if the Tigers were playing, say, John Calipari and Kentucky?

Heck, maybe ESPN's College Gameday even shows up and Digger Phelps dances with a Golden Girl.

We'll understand if the team loses, but giving the team more opportunities to experience top 25 Division I programs will only better prepare them for the Big 12.

Anderson has re-established Missouri as a prominent power conference program. It's now time to show other power conference teams what the "fastest 40 minutes in basketball" is all about.

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