March 10, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; The Missouri Tigers and head coach Frank Haith are presented the trophy after winning the 2012 Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center. Missouri won 90 - 75. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Missouri has never made a Final Four. Could 2012 be the end of a 73-year wait for Tiger fans? This team has the tools to be that special team.
Initial reactions to Missouri's 2-seed in the West region were largely not positive among Tiger fans. After winning the Big 12 tournament and finishing the regular season with 30 wins, Missouri fans felt they deserved to be on the top line.
But after Tiger faithful took a step back and analyzed the bracket and the draw that their team got, the situation couldn't have been much better.
They avoided the powerhouse Kentucky team. They also avoided bad matchups like Kansas State, North Carolina and Cincinnati.
Instead, the Tigers will most likely have to win their opening round game against 15th seeded Norfolk State, a wildly inconsistent Florida team and a lesser version of themselves in Marquette.
It's not just the draw that is on the Tigers' side this year. Here are four other things going Missouri's way.
The Tigers have probably their best chance to make a Final Four in program history, mostly because they have talent, but also because they know what to expect in March.
Missouri's group of seniors have been playing with each other for a long time and are playing as together as they ever have in the past month. The incredible chemistry is impossible to miss and they all seem incredibly focused on making a trip to New Orleans in a little more than two weeks.
Most agree that good guard play is one of the main things you need to have success in the NCAA Tournament. Missouri may have the best group of guards in the country.
Denmon and English are both elite scorers. Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon are the best pair of point guards in the nation. Matt Pressey is a glue guy who brings much-needed defense to a group that isn't great in that area.
Overall, there is no weakness in this group of five players. What else could you ask for?
Another thing to check for when looking for a good tournament pick is how explosive a team's offense is. You wont find a more explosive offense in the nation than Missouri's.
We covered this with the guards, but the Tigers also get elite play from Ricardo Ratliffe in the post. The senior from Hampton, Va. receives a lot of attention on the block from elite defenders in the Big 12, but he still broke a school record for field goal percentage in a season.
For a team heavy in guard play, the Tigers actually score a lot in the paint, somewhat due to Ratliffe's play, but also because their guards are not afraid to attack the basket.
Teams riding hot streaks going into the tournament have been known to carry that play into the field of 68, with the best example of that coming last year. Connecticut caught fire, winning five games in five days to claim the Big East Tournament crown before winning six more games to become national champions.
While Missouri isn't on a double digit win-streak, they did win their conference tournament and have played their best basketball of the season down the stretch (minus the home Kansas State game). Even their loss to Kansas in Lawrence featured some of the best individual performances of the year from players in Tiger uniforms.
Over their last 14 games, the Tigers are 12-2 with those back-to-back losses to KU and KSU as the only blemishes.
The dismantling of Baylor for the conference crown may have been the most impressive game of the year, though. Missouri had five players score 15 points or more for the first time in school history. That just shows you what kind of special team this is.
So as you finalize your brackets, be sure to give the Tigers of Mizzou a lot of respect. They aren't a gimmicky team like they had been in years past under Mike Anderson. This is a legitimate Final Four team because of the reasons listed above, but also be cause of their raw talent.