Earlier this week, the Mizzou basketball and football teams each ascended through their respective rankings, and became just the fourth current school to have both programs in the top 25, as they joined Alabama, Baylor, and Michigan. Let’s take a look how each program has gotten to the position they are in, and how this accomplishment will open eyes around the country.
Without a doubt, the performance of the basketball team has pleased fans unhappy with the inconsistencies shown by the football squad. But Frank Haith’s troops have garnered more than just local buzz- College basketball analysts everywhere have been fascinated by the Tigers’ scintillating start.
Many early season tournaments are a way for teams to see how they stack up against tough competition, and figure out their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, while all teams want to win every game and analysts will examine each contest closely, these early matchups are usually evaluated with a grain of salt, as it takes most teams several weeks to develop a good chemistry and balance. But the Tigers looked in mid-season form when they took down Notre Dame and 18th ranked California by a combined 68 points in winning the CBE Classic. As a result, they leaped over Kansas in the rankings (Who slipped to 15th following tournament losses to Kentucky and Duke), and earned some well-deserved attention. ESPN Insider’s John Hollinger wrote how the Tigers are one of the most under-valued teams in the nation, and Jason King wrote that the Tigers are as talented to win the Big 12 as any team in the conference.
In order to sustain this unprecedented start to the season, it is clear that the Tigers must maintain a solid shooting percentage from the guards. Of course, nobody should expect Kim English to shoot at a 62.5 percent clip from downtown all season, but making shots is what ultimately scores points, and the Tigers’ 52 percent shooting thus far (9th best in Division I) is why they are 6-0. But the reason why they are connecting on so many shots is the selfless ball distribution that has never been seen before with this group. Phil Pressey has made some mature strides since his freshman year at the point guard position, and has shown smart shot selection. In addition, Mike Dixon is playing with the same amount of intensity and passion as always, but has been able to stay under control at the same time. If the team can stay unselfish and loose, and keep the big men out of foul trouble, their showdown with Kansas in early February could pit two top 10 teams against each other at Mizzou Arena.
Looking at the gridiron, many Tiger fans have to wonder how their team sits at 25th of the BCS rankings. Mizzou did have a tough schedule, as five of their nine conference opponents were ranked when the two teams met, and a sixth (Baylor) is currently ranked. However, top 25 teams have to show that they can consistently beat not only those below them, but also those ranked in the same area. To expect the Tigers to have beaten top 5 teams like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is absurd, but tight losses to Arizona State, Baylor, and Kansas State have proven that the Tigers don’t belong in the top 25.
Even for those who feel as though Mizzou’s win over then 16th ranked Texas is enough to be considered a top 25 team, the profile of the Longhorns features the same similarities as the Tigers. Texas has lost all three of its games against ranked teams, and they haven’t been close (An 18 point average losing margin). Without a single win over a top 25 team (And no, Texas A&M doesn’t come close), there is no way the Longhorns should be ranked 22nd. With indecision at quarterback and no threat to pass, Texas has been eaten alive by the Big 12′s top defenses. Even against Mizzou, a defense whose struggles have been well-documented, the offense could produce only three points. Both Texas and Mizzou don’t deserve to be in the top 25, but when you play in the Big 12, rankers tend to overvalue conference wins over mediocre teams and chalk up losses to a tough strength of schedule.
But ignoring the fact that the football team’s climb into the top 25 probably isn’t warranted, the success of both programs could not have come at a better time for the school. Upon leaving the Big 12, many SEC observers began to wonder just how competitive the Tigers will be once they begin play in their new conference.
At first, it seemed obvious that Texas A&M would be the new team to experience the most success. But Mizzou has now firmly grasped the attention of everyone in the southeast. With the exception of Kentucky, who made a solid Kansas team look lost in the spotlight of Madison Square Garden, the basketball team has the talent to beat all other teams in the conference. And despite being criticized early, the football squad is out to prove that the can compete with those in the SEC. After all, the Tigers will end up with a four game winning streak and a respectable 8 win season if they can win their bowl game. Clearly, the two most publicized sports at Mizzou are picking the perfect time to excel.