Being the No. 1-ranked team in the country carries with it both a blessing and a curse. Every week during the college basketball season, panels of human voters and computers here, there and everywhere rank the best teams in the country, one through 25 and one through whatever. Every team strives to be one of the top 25, and the higher the better.
With a high ranking comes a higher NCAA Tournament seed and a better chance of advancement to the second week of action, when the games take on higher importance and clear the path to the Final Four. At that stage of the season, though, as anyone with any sense of reality knows, it makes no difference where a team ranks, but how well you're playing that matters most. It doesn't matter if you're the best team if you're not the best team on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds in any given game come tournament time.
Missouri is having a phenomenal final season in the Big 12. With seven games to go in the regular season, including the Tigers' Wednesday night encounter in Columbia against Oklahoma State, one of the two conference teams to beat MU this season (Kansas State is the other), the Tigers stand at No. 3 in the country in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. That's just two spots from the top rung, where Kentucky and Syracuse are positioned currently. Should either or both of those teams stumble before season's end, Missouri would be in the best position to advance one or two spots and potentially seize the top spot.
As nice as that sounds, Mizzou probably would be better served if it were fortunate enough to stay right where it is. The reason being: No, 1 teams carry huge targets on their backs and typically don't hold on to the top spot for very long unless they are the last team standing after the final game of the national championship. In basketball, teams play two games a week and, therefore, have half the time to prepare for their opponents and twice the opportunity to lose than their football counterparts.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves and sound as if we are conceding the remainder of the Big 12 men's basketball season to Missouri in its final season in the conference, it bears pointing out that the Tigers have a giant hurdle to get over on Feb. 25 before they can even begin thinking about moving any higher in the rankings, let alone stay where they are. That's when MU has to go to longtime rival Kansas, the team ranked right behind Missouri in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll, for the second half of this season's Border Showdown in basketball, and the last one in 267 meetings unless something changes in the future.
Some other noteworthy numbers in 2011-12 Big 12 men's basketball:
- 0 - Missouri is the only team in the conference not to lose a game this year playing at home (Missouri is 14-0; Kansas is 13-1).
- 4 - Number of players headed for Big 12 schools (Isaiah Austin, committed to Baylor; Perry Ellis, Kansas; Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, and Cameron Ridley, going toTexas) who have been selected to play in the McDonald's All-America High School Game March 28 in Chicago.
- 5 - This is the fifth consecutive week the Big 12 has had three teams (Missouri, Kansas and Baylor) ranked in the top ten in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls.
- 5.12 - Missouri is committing an average of five fewer turnovers game (10.6) than its opponents (15.7), a turnover margin of +5.12.
- 8 - Six Big 12 teams have at least 16 wins this season, and eight teams have a .500 winning percentage or better.
- 14-0 - The Big 12 had two teams start the 2011-12 season at 14-0 for just the second time in conference history.
- 50 - This year's Missouri team is one of the best shooting teams in school history. The Tigers are hitting over 50 percent of their shots through 25 games, the seventh best in the country and the best in the Big 12. Missouri also leads the conference and is No. 3 in the nation in free-throw shooting, with two of its scoring leaders, Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon Jr., making 90 percent of their free-throw attempts.
- 69 - Number of three-point field goals by Missouri's Marcus Denmon this season to lead the conference. Steven Pledger of Oklahoma is next in line with 64 made three-pointers.
- 74 percent - Ricardo Ratliffe of Missouri is scoring on 74 percent of his field goal tries to lead the country. Thomas Robinson of Kansas (55 percent) is the next closest in the Big 12, but more than 20 percentage points lower than Ratliffe.
- 140 - Total number of blocked shots by Kansas this season, an average of 5.6 per game, tied for tenth best in the nation.
- 230 - Team three-point field goals made by Iowa State, an average of 8.65 a game, the best in the Big 12.
- 1,900 - Five Big 12 teams (Missouri, Kansas, Baylor, Texas and Iowa State) have scored more than 1,900 points in 26 games.
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website