Column: A midseason reality check for Missouri basketball
Jan. 20, 2012
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
In case you haven't noticed, the Missouri men's basketball team is playing great right now. Not just kind of great. We're talking possibly the greatest team to ever trot the floor in Columbia. Right now, these Tigers might even have enough pieces in place to make a run at immortality.
The key phrase is right now.
Currently, the team's record stands at 17-1, the best start for the Tigers since the 1981-1982 season. Forward Ricardo Ratliffe leads the nation in field goal percentage, point guard Phil Pressey leads the conference in assists and steals, guard Marcus Denmon is a front-runner for Big 12 Conference player of the year award and Michael Dixon was recently named one of the best sixth men in the nation by Sports Illustrated.
The accolades go on and on when you take a good look at first-year coach Frank Haith's roster, but the problem spots lurk below the surface.
This Missouri team lacks any kind of depth whatsoever, with only seven players seeing minutes in a typical game. When February and March roll around, the odds of staying completely healthy while maintaining enough energy to make a run in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments are very low, given the current state of the depth chart.
Height is also a major concern. 6-foot-8-inch Ratliffe and 6-foot-9-inch senior post Steve Moore are very average in terms of vertical abundance, and the next tallest player — benchwarmers excluded — is 6-foot-6-inch guard Kim English.
Needless to say, the Tigers will have a bit of trouble when either of their two big guys gets into foul trouble or goes down with even a minor injury. A team with a great post presence (squads in Lawrence, Kans., and Waco, Texas, come to mind) will most likely dominate in the paint, forcing matchup issues that could doom Missouri.
In fact, Kansas State already exposed the Tigers with a deeper and taller roster, outrebounding them 42-28 in a 75-59 win a couple weeks ago.
The Wildcats don't even come close to being the best team in a talented Big 12. We'll get a chance to see what these Tigers are made of when they visit No. 3 Baylor, whose roster boasts three post players over 6 feet 10 inches, Saturday night. A road win against the Bears would be huge, but two other foes also loom large.
Archrival Kansas looks like the favorite to win the conference this year, which doesn't come as a surprise: the Jayhawks have won either the regular season or postseason Big 12 championship every year since 2001.
The Tigers will face the No. 7 Jayhawks twice in the next two months, and they still have a rematch against Kansas State. To put it simply, the Tigers have an unbelievably tough run coming up, seeing as they've only played one team currently ranked in the Top 25 (Illinois).
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of a deep Missouri run is history. Missouri has long been a strong basketball school, but the Tigers have not won a regular season conference championship since 1993-1994, when the Big 12 was only the Big Eight. The team's Elite Eight appearance in 2009 was only its third since 1976. In fact, the Tigers are the winningest team in the history of college basketball to have not made an appearance in the Final Four.
It takes more than talent and a strong start to cement a team's place in history and achieve something that has not been done in 95 years of basketball in Columbia.
Don't expect anything to change this March.