The Missouri Tigers sit at 13-1 and ranked No. 9 in the country heading into the start of Big 12 Conference play, but observers are quick to note that Mizzou has played a different level of basketball during the back end of non-conference play. Mike Anderson's teams have traditionally gotten stronger as seasons have progressed, but when was it that Mizzou pushed it into second gear this season? Ross Taylor of Rock M Nation proposes two options for your voting pleasure in the poll at the bottom of this post.
Responding against Georgetown in Kansas City
Is it possible for a undefeated team to need a wake-up call? That question may be largely rhetorical, but this one isn't: Can a team respond to a wake-up call in the best possible fashion and still suffer a crushing defeat? Eight minutes into its "neutral" site game with Georgetown, Mizzou was determined to find an answer.
Entering the game, Missouri has been solidly undefeated yet ultimately unimpressive. Mizzou's struggles with Western Illinois still seemed rather fresh in the minds of fans, and the "organized chaos" so associated with Missouri's brand of basketball was largely absent in uninspiring wins. But instead of avoiding playing down to its competition, the Georgetown game provided Missouri the chance to play up, or in their eyes, play even. Instead, Mizzou found itself on the wrong end of an early 12-0 Hoya run, reeling and awaiting response.
Slowly but surely, Mizzou responded. Since that game, Mizzou's more impressive performances include a historic pasting of Northern Illinois and a second half clinic against a very stout Old Dominion team. But loss or no loss, it was Missouri's play in the second half against Georgetown that likely stands as Mizzou's most impressive stretch of play this season. On the ropes against a quality opponent, Mizzou woke up. But did they wake up for good? Or was it not until...
Demnon steals and scores to beat Vanderbilt at Mizzou Arena
The corner seemed like it had been turned after the Georgetown loss as Missouri blitzed Oregon early in Eugene, but even if it was a function of tired legs, Missouri's near-collapse in the second half left the matter subject to debate. Upon returning home to Mizzou Arena, Missouri found itself locked in a back-and-forth battle with Vanderbilt, as evidenced by the game flow above.
At no point in the season had Missouri needed a singular hero, per se, but given the opportunity in overtime against the Commodores, Marcus Denmon seized it.
Under Mike Anderson, it's hard to imagine Mizzou will ever be the type of team wholly reliable upon one single threat to carry an offense. Denmon's play, both in scoring and in making the play defensively, was a perfect microcosm of Denmon's greater impact as non-conference play continued. From that point on, Mizzou has operated with different swagger that seems at least partially connected to the comfort of knowing that the Tigers do in fact have a "go-to" playmaker in the face of adversity.