At 22-9 overall and No. 24 in the KenPom Top 25, Missouri sits in what would be an enviable position for about 86 percent of Division I basketball teams. But the "second season" can't come fast enough for Mizzou, a team that finds itself searching for a reset button heading into the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City this week.
The Tigers enter the tournament sporting a three-game losing streak that, on paper, seems extraordinarily explainable. The Tigers lost on the road to a smoking hot Kansas State squad, lost in Lincoln to a bubble-motivated Nebraska squad on Senior Day, and then fell by four points at home to the No. 2 team in the country.
If only Mizzou fans could have opted for that paper version.
Missouri's shooting stroke, and ergo its confidence, has been on a two-week vacation as everyone but Laurence Bowers and Marcus Denmon struggles to contribute with any consistency. Hidden in the depth of Missouri pessimism is the idea that if Mizzou's shooting returns, there's this this glimmer of hope: As a function of both style and conditioning, many observers have said Missouri is better built as a tournament team than a Big 12 regular season team.
Whereas Big 12 opponents have somewhat adjusted to Missouri's particular genre of roundball, non-conference opponents in the last several years have often seemed ill-prepared and shell-shocked if/when Mizzou can get things rolling.
The Big 12 Tournament represents the last chance for Mizzou to reverse momentum and recapture any semblance of swagger heading into the NCAA Tournament. Whether it was UAB's upset of Kentucky in 2004 or Mizzou's statement against Memphis in 2009, Mike Anderson's teams have proven they need nothing more than an identity and ticket to dance. The ticket presumably awaits Missouri. The story of what the Tigers do with it begins Wednesday night.