As the hours tick away until March Madness officially tips off in the round of 64 this morning, Missouri has become the hot pick to advance to the Final Four from the West region.
The most important player for Missouri in March Madness might not be the one you expect, though.
Marcus Denmon and Kim English will most likely get their points. Michael Dixon will continue to be the best sixth man in the nation. Ricardo Ratliffe will gobble up offensive rebounds and shoot almost 70 percent from the floor.
Missouri can count on those players to show up and give a largely positive contribution to their team. The big wildcard for the Tigers in the tournament will be the play of sophomore point guard Phil Pressey.
Pressey was an extremely dynamic player for Missouri this year, leading the Big 12 in assists and steals per game at 6.3 and 2.1, respectively, while running the point for the most efficient offense in the nation.
He didn't always consistently give the Tigers those numbers, though. Pressey gave Missouri double-digit assists in seven games this season and three or less assists in seven games.
He also had some problems taking care of the ball at times this year. Even though he had 10 games with zero or one turnovers, he also had seven games with four or more turnovers.
These numbers prove the widely held belief that Pressey is a very up-and-down player.
When he is on, Pressey is more than likely a top-3 point guard in the nation, but when he is off he can actually be a liability for a team that needs good guard play to succeed.
The good news for Missouri is that Pressey has been incredible recently, most notably in the Big 12 Tournament.
Over the last nine games, the 5-10 point guard is averaging almost 11 points and 8 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor. Those numbers are what you dream of when you think of a perfect college point guard, but Pressey has shown that he can actually be better than that.
There are five-minute stretches of games where the sophomore just takes over, lulling defenses to sleep with crossovers and making them pay with no-look passes. His 3-point stroke has also improved immensely over the last half of the season, meaning defenders can no longer cheat to the hoop.
The Tigers will need this dominant performance from Pressey to get by teams like Michigan State and Marquette on the way to the Final Four. If the Tigers goals are set even higher than that (which they are), they will have to worry about beating the nation's best in Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State and Syracuse.
The thing to take away from all this is that Missouri really has the talent to win the whole thing. They just need Phil Pressey to play at the top of his game for the next three weeks. If that happens, the Tigers could be cutting down the nets in New Orleans in early April.
How awesome is that, Tiger fans?
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