ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The University of Missouri men’s basketball team has made an appearance in the NCAA tournament the past four seasons, a task that has not been accomplished since Norm Stewart retired from the sidelines nearly 15 years ago. In 2006 Mike Anderson began the uphill climb, and in 2011 Frank Haith continued the trend, leading the Tigers to a 30-5 record.
The Tigers are entering their first season as a member of the Southeastern Conference, and while another trip to the NCAA Tournament is a legitimate goal, a conference championship should be as well.
Mizzou will head into its first conference battle as a member of the SEC tonight versus Alabama. This is a chance for Phil Pressey and crew to make a name for themselves as not only a hardwood contender, but as a basketball powerhouse in a football dominated conference.
A member of the Big 12 since its upstart in 1996, Missouri never claimed a regular season conference championship. The Kansas Jayhawks claimed that honor 12 times, dominating the conference in its 16 year existence. Now that Missouri is no longer faced with what seemed to be an impossible task in the Big 12, the Tigers can focus on winning their first regular season conference title since 1994.
There has been no dominating team in the SEC in the past ten years, at least in regards of over powering their opponents year after year. Florida and Kentucky have been among the best in recent years, with two and six regular season titles, respectively. This season, Florida and Missouri are among the top of the conference after defending national champion, Kentucky, suffered four losses in non-conference play.
Ole Miss currently holds an 11-2 record, but due to a weak schedule thus far, look to see them slide to the middle of the pack as conference play continues. What does this mean for the SEC? Well, it looks like it will come down to Missouri and Florida fighting it out for bragging rights.
Missouri will play Florida twice this season, first in Gainesville on Jan. 19 and in Columbia on Feb. 19. The Tigers play great in Mizzou Arena, suffering only two losses in the last 33 home games, but the question will be whether or not they can take that dominance on the road.
There is no surprise that Pressey will be the go-to guy for Haith, but this offense has multiple players that can score. Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi have been solid in the front court to this point in the season. Both have averaged double figures in scoring per game and have nearly done the same in rebounding.
Jabari Brown was a spark in late December, but slowed against an average Bucknell team and only contributed 3 points in the 66-64 nail biter. His presence must be felt for Missouri to play up to their potential.
The Tigers’ point per game average of 78.5 should be more than plenty to win in the SEC, but the defensive end is where the Tigers can shine. Mizzou runs the floor well, and with the past experience of playing the fast transition basketball in the Big 12, that should be an area they can capitalize on.
Obviously, no game will be an easy task in a powerhouse conference like the SEC, but the Tigers have the talent, coaching, and experience to make a deep push for their first regular season conference title in nearly 20 years.