If Missouri's 29-point victory over Notre Dame was a statement win, what can you call their 39-point win over No. 18 California on Tuesday?
Domination? Authoritative? Pure annihilation?
All of those adjectives would suffice, but I would go as far as to call the win a declaration to the nation that this is a team that should be taken very, very seriously for the remainder of this season and all the way into the NCAA tournament.
The early-season performances of Missouri and its talented guards are bringing back memories of the 4-guard lineup that Villanova and star player Randy Foye used in their 2006 Elite Eight year. This seems like high praise for a team that was picked fourth in the Big 12 conference only a month ago, but with their play thus far, the Tigers have earned all the national praise that they are set to receive.
As dominant as the Tigers looked against an unranked Notre Dame team on Monday, they looked even better against a well-respected, 18th-ranked California team on Tuesday. With suffocating defense and great offensive execution, the Tigers picked apart the Golden Bears, frustrating leading scorer Jorge Gutierrez enough to have him foul out with 11 minutes left in the game.
Led by Marcus Denmon's 19.6 points per game (54.2 percent shooting) and the resurgence of Kim English (16 ppg, 60% 3PT, 5 rpg), the four-guard lineup of the Tigers has used speed to run right by larger and stronger teams.
Great shooting performances have begun to be become the norm for Missouri this season. Even though they started the year with three solid shooting games against inferior competition (46.7% from the floor, 48.3% from 3-point land), it had to be assumed that the Tigers would stop shooting the lights out once they started playing "real" opponents.
Think again. Missouri shot 58.5 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from 3-point land in the two CBE games in Kansas City, scoring 89.5 points per game. With the improved player movement in Frank Haith's offense, the Tigers' good shooters will continue to get good looks from behind the arc against good defenses like they did against Notre Dame and California.
I'm not suggesting that the Tigers offense will always be as extremely efficient as it has looked so far this season, but through five games, you have to start looking at this team as it has performed, and it has performed superbly.
It could be that this will be the best basketball the Tigers play all season, but I seriously doubt that will be the case. This year's team has already looked more impressive than last year's team in non-conference play and you have to believe the senior-laden squad will be extremely prepared for their final season of Big 12.
No one knows exactly how this team will perform when it comes to the rigors of Big 12 play, but there couldn't have been a better start to this season than the one the Tigers have had and you have to believe that they will somewhat carry that into a weaker conference this year.
The sky's the limit for this team. We've seen this senior class make an Elite Eight run only three years ago so it's not too unrealistic to say that that group could make another deep run in March. It is said that guard play is the biggest key to success when March Madness rolls around. I'd put Missouri's guards up against anyone's in the nation right now and feel pretty good about their chances. Buckle up Tigers fans, it could be one enjoyable ride this season.