Here are three things I think heading into Mizzou's game against Oklahoma on Saturday.
1. What a difference two years make
Two years ago, Oklahoma traveled to Columbia sporting a 26-4 record and a No. 4 national ranking. Mizzou responded in kind by frustrating the Sooners en route to a 73-64 win to cap an undefeated home season.
For Missouri, the win was yet another milestone in the step-by-step climb out of the abyss. On a night in which Mizzou honored the seniors that engineered the turnaround, After the game, reporters grilled Jeff Capel to see if he was panicking after finally seeing his Sooners lose at full strength. Capel's response? "Nope. It's one game on the road in a tough place. Not many people have... hell, no one has come here and won."
24 months prior, it was that simple. In the minds of reporters and in the minds of most everyone, Oklahoma and Blake "Viral Video Starter Kit" Griffin were the 1B to Kansas' 1A, and Missouri's cute redemption story was still an afterthought. But two years later, Mizzou's trajectory remains steady even if not altogether stratospheric, while Capel has had to soldier through a mass exodus of talent that only turn-of-the-century Royals fans could appreciate.
2. What a difference expectations make
Missouri has been somewhat of a disappointment at 18-6. That statement is both horrifying and hilarious at the same time. Oklahoma, on the other hand, isn't exactly the toast of the Big 12 but has surprised some by being a game within .500 in conference play in mid-February. And considering the formula used by Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly in April projected them to be -1 and 17 in conference before a quick adjustment, we'll say that's exceeding expectations, OK?
Mizzou fans aren't disappointed as much as they're restless at this point, and for largely good reason. Mizzou's first half against Kansas showed the type of basketball Missouri is capable of playing: Fast, but patient. Physical, but graceful. Instinctive, but coached.
It was the quality of basketball Missouri fans had been waiting to see for most of the season after an offseason of Top 15 talk. That game ultimately disappeared in the second half in Lawrence, but now the bar that had slowly fallen can once again begin to be raised.
3. Oklahoma needs an answer for the Pressey/Dixon double barrel
For those oblivious to storylines, I hope I'm not breaking news when I say that Missouri is collectively much stronger at home than it is on the road. And though Kim English has borne the brunt of the blame for some of Missouri's odd home/road splits, it's the splits of point guard Michael Dixon that have become somewhat more baffling.
The continued development of freshman Phil Pressey is creating enough match-up problems for Big 12 teams as is (you know, not including the obligatory "40 feet from the basket" touch foul). Not many teams in the conference have the 1-2 point guard punch Missouri has when Pressey is in control and Dixon is feeling it. It's a tough draw for any team, much less an Oklahoma team still trying to develop consistency of depth.