posted on March 22, 2010 12:11
If you are one of those who wondered after the 68-59 to West Virginia if Missouri practices free throws or if there is an unwritten rule against Missouri landing a big man or if Bob Huggins had secretly placed Saran Wrap over Missouri's basket before tipoff and then, without being noticed, moved it to the other basket at halftime, let me start by saying I won't tell you you're wrong. I don't agree with you, I think you're wrong, but everybody has an opinion and mine is no more valid than yours. So feel free to carry your frustration over the end of the season as long as you choose to do so.
But I had a different take. About ten minutes after yesterday's game, the loss was gone. I don't think fans should be upset about it. Not one bit. There are two types of losses in the tournament. There are the ones where you blew it, where you lost to a team that wasn't as good as you, where you had your heart broken. There is a Big 12 team dealing with that kind of loss. Fortunately for Mizzou, that team resides in Lawrence, Kansas.
What I saw in Missouri was a team that left every ounce of energy it had on the floor. I saw a team that played unbelievably hard. It didn't play well. It missed a lot of shots. But not one person that watched that game can question Missouri's effort. The Tigers lost to a better team. Sometimes that happens.
I say this all to make a larger point. This program is back. Yes, the Tigers fell two rounds short of where they ended last season. They won eight fewer games and lost three more. It wasn't as good a season. But guess what? It wasn't as good a team.
You watched this season. You know the limitations. There wasn't a go-to scorer. There wasn't a low-post presence. There wasn't a consistent three-point threat. There wasn't a DeMarre Carroll type madman at the top of the press. And yet there are 300-some odd basketball teams wishing they'd gotten to play as long as the Tigers did.
Missouri basketball fans have been through hell. And it wasn't all that long ago. From the loss in the second round to Marquette until mid-season last year, there just wasn't a lot to like.
Mike Anderson talked on Selection Sunday about how he didn't want a “fad,” didn't want a “one-and-done” or a “fly by night.” This season sends the message he doesn't have any of those things. He has a program.
Anderson took a team led by defensive-minded guards and rail-thin post players to 21-and-7. He then lost a starter, had torn wrist ligaments befall his sixth man and sent his only remaining proven bench scorer out with a broken nose. And they still made the second round of the tournament and pushed one of America's best teams to the very brink before losing.
For the second straight year, Missouri loses a three-man senior class that looks very tough to replace. J.T. Tiller made one hell of a career out of hustle and guts. Zaire Taylor earned every bit of his “Mr. Big Shot” moniker, all the way to a three-pointer that brought Mizzou within 59-56 in the waning minutes on Sunday. Keith Ramsey played nearly every second over the last three weeks in the most physically demanding system in the country.
Help is on the way in the form of Tony Mitchell and Phil Pressey and a top ten recruiting class that might not be done. Mike Dixon showed off his potential against West Virginia, leading the Tigers with 15 much-needed bench points. Kim English is a leader. Steve Moore and Laurence Bowers made monumental leaps between their freshman and sophomore seasons.
There is hope. There is a near certainty that the Tigers will be back in the tournament next year. With a break on the recruiting trail and a favorable bounce or two, the ceiling is incredibly high for this team.
The best news is this: You no longer have to refer to the years between 2003 and 2008. They're done. They didn't kill this program. I'm not saying you throw out the Quin Snyder years. He made an Elite Eight. He got some great players. He made four NCAA Tournaments. Those things are part of Missouri history.
And so are the negatives. So is Ricky Clemons and the ATV party and the jailhouse tapes. But those things are now gone. They don't matter. They came close to destroying Missouri basketball. But they didn't. Mike Anderson saved it. He did it with the help of Carroll and Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence and Tiller and Taylor and Ramsey and the sophomore class that is the future of the program.
We thought Missouri basketball was back after last season. Now we know it.
Gabe DeArmond is the publisher of PowerMizzou.com, the Missouri site on the Rivals.com network. You can read his daily coverage of the Tigers online at http://missouri.rivals.com.