The Missouri Tigers are deserving of a No. 1 seed.
It's no secret that the typical Missouri basketball team hasn't shown up yet. Their fans have been waiting for them; heck, the rest of the fans in Big 12 have been waiting for them, but they're nowhere in sight.
Not these Missouri Tigers.
Records are falling like Lindsay Lohan on dollar beer night. Individual accolades are coming in at a staggering rate, with not just awards and hype to add to their list, but even records that were once thought to have been untouchable.
What has been the difference? What has happened this season that has translated into such an unfamiliar level of success for Mizzou? We examine six factors that have come into play to make this season much different from the ones Missouri fans are used to.
Phil Pressey is often too quick to be defended well.
Every good Missouri team has had one consistent thing—at least one really quick, scrappy defender that is going to challenge the ball carrier every time up the floor. This Missouri team has several.
In the past it was Jason Sutherland. It's been J.T. Tiller and Clarence Gilbert was that player for his time. But every guard that Missouri boasts has incredible quickness, and when they are playing at a full level of committed man-to-man defense, they might as well not be one of the shortest teams in the country. You may not even notice anyway.
On the offensive end, Phil Pressey has been able to use his quickness to out-pace defenders all season. Some questioned the Tigers' 13-0 non-conference run, but Pressey has been able to score faster than those who criticized him can ask questions. More importantly, faster than most of the Big 12 defenders that attempt to guard him.
Missouri is not sloppy with the basketball this season.
Missouri's assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.49, good enough for best in the Big 12 Conference, and fourth nationally. This is one huge reason why the Tigers have been so successful; they not only take care of the basketball, but translate their possessions into points.
Individually, Phil Pressey is leading the team with a 7.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. His big knock is that he sometimes, especially in situations of being down, takes forced and errant shots. Trust me, you want this guy bringing the ball up the court every time.
The huge blessing for Mizzou is that Phil will be going into his junior campaign next season. The big task at hand for coaches will be getting him to understand that staying four years will be the best move for his eventual NBA career.
Marcus Denmon and Matt Pressey have been instrumental in Missouri's offensive game plan.
Leading the Big 12 in scoring at 80.5 points a game is something that trickles down from Phil Pressey, but runs through all of the players, mostly the talented back court. Then again, so is leading the Big 12 in scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, assists, steals, turnover margin and the aforementioned assist-to-turnover ratio.
What is truly amazing is how Missouri is pulling off more steals and transition points than they did when they advertised that as their style of play under former coach Mike Anderson. For those that have come up to the foregone conclusion that Frank Haith isn't that great because he just got a bunch of Anderson's players, you might want to reconsider; Haith is in fact doing with Anderson's players, what Anderson could not do.
Ricardo Ratliffe leads the NCAA with a 75.5 field goal percentage.
Of course Ricardo Ratliffe is only one man in the scheme of the team, but his play as an individual has propelled Missouri to have unscoutable inside success. No player in the history of college basketball has ever finished the season making more than three-fourths of their attempted shots, but that is exactly what Ricardo is on pace to do.
Currently at 75.5 percent for the season, Ratliffe is on pace to break the all-time NCAA field goal percentage record set by Steve Johnson (74.6) of Oregon State in 1981. Ratliffe's ability to find an opening in a zone and having a quick release when his man is on him have been reasons for his consistent quality performances.
Of course, the Missouri guards will say their ability to locate the big man is at least part of the formula. And their statistics support that argument.
Missouri coach Frank Haith is considered by many as the front runner for National Coach of the Year.
When news surfaced that Mike Anderson had ducked out of Columbia for sloppier pastures, the general balloon of fandom within the Missouri basketball faithful was deflated. Asking for a coaching hire that fans could relate to didn't seem like too much to be asking for, as Missouri's overall profile of recent years had been on the rise.
Meet Frank Haith. Well, meet the scores of unhappy fans who were calling in to local radio shows, wondering what Athletics Director Mike Alden was thinking by hiring an unproven ACC coach who didn't do anything to impress at Miami.
Mike was dodging criticism with everything he had. Now though, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would have claimed to have been a member of the anti-Haith brigade; they're too busy cheering and buying more tickets.
Haith's decision making has been top notch. He drives home fundamentals and keeps players after practice to shoot hundreds of free throws if their numbers are slipping. He also made a move of top character after the Kansas game, calling all the players in for a mandatory overnight at a local hotel, 45 hours ahead of another game in Norman against Oklahoma.
Focusing on ball distribution, rather than selfish play, is what has seperated this year's Mizzou team from years previous.
In the NCAA, there's always that mid-major team, who is senior-dominated and has lost only a couple games... They play together and make a huge impact on the NCAA tournament. Missouri is just as unselfish as any of those previously successful tournament teams, except the dangerous part is that they're no mid-major.
Michael Dixon, Marcus Denmon and Kim English are equally talented three-point threats that have to be respected. After Phil Pressey's three-point performance against Baylor on Saturday, you have to throw his name on that list as well. And don't forget Matt Pressey, who won't hesitate to shoot the three and does so with confidence.
Steve Moore is having a season he could only dream of a couple years ago. Clumsy and generally nonathletic, every Mizzou fan cringed when he touched the ball. That's the old Steve Moore.
The new Moore is a defined role player with quick decision-making. Looking to dish the rock more often than try to force the issue has made him a quality player that has to be planned for.
With play like this, Missouri sits in line for a No. 1 seed when pairings are announced following the conference tournaments. The only bigger piece of cake for Mizzou, would be getting put in the Midwest Regional bracket which ends up in St. Louis.