The Missouri Tigers have fooled us before, but the difference this season is that they are winning in conference play. In seasons past (as well as this one), the Tigers have had a relatively easy non-conference schedule to raise their win total.
The only hard games this year were a win against USC at a neutral site, a loss to Illinois at a neutral site, and a loss at Xavier. A win at home versus California belongs there too, but we are undefeated at home, so that ruins it a little.
The two losses are respectable, and the wins certainly didn't hurt them, but the rest of the games were against mid-majors or worse.
In conference play, we've stayed undefeated at home, beating Kansas, Texas Tech, and Baylor, plus the bottom of the conference. Losses to Kansas State and Nebraska have hurt, although both were away and KSU proved to be a different team than before. Mizzou's win at home facing Nebraska proved MU was a different team then and a different team entirely when they are home.
Now, I have perfect explanations for their big wins and key losses except for Nebraska's game.
This game was won by Missouri if they were a good free throw shooting team. Luckily, this is the only game that has been affected directly by their free throw shooting. This game proved that Missouri can compete with some of the best. Even though Xavier isn't the Elite Eight team of last year, it is close enough to believe Mizzou belongs and could make it farther than the second round.
As proved later in the season, Illinois turned out to be a great team. Missouri also wasn't the same team. They didn't have the same confidence they've had in the past. Illinois has great chemistry, good experience, and good defense, plus a good offense when they shoot well. That spelled disaster as Illinois shot well and Mizzou's offense struggled against a good team.
Even though KSU was near the bottom of the Big 12 when they faced Mizzou, something different happened with their team here. The Tigers were clearly affected by the hostile crowd and got off to a bad first half. They never recovered as Kansas State found its stroke and wouldn't miss at one point.
My two explanations for this win are not very good. One, USC didn't belong in the Top 25; therefore, we got credit for a win against an overrated team. Secondly, it was the beginning of the year (i.e., SLU beat Boston College). I think MU would still beat USC right now six times out of 10.
Same scenario as USC here. Texas was wildly overrated. We got credit for that. Plus Damion James was half hurt and wasn't the factor he normally is. It still is a huge win, however, because they beat them AT Texas. And with Mizzou, any away win is huge.
This could be stretching the reasons, but this was due to A) Mizzou's hostile crowd (by the way, they didn't cause MU's slow start. That happens almost every game) and B) the inexperience of Kansas.
Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, the most experienced players, were role players on a championship team. That's important, yet they had no experience in the final seconds as leaders. Backing up Collins and Aldrich, there is a slew of mostly freshmen, who can get rattled by crowds.
(No, California at home and Georgia, part of a very weak SEC conference, don't belong in wins.)
Missouri still has a chance to prove they are a title contender with three key games coming up. This coming Saturday is Kansas State at Missouri, and this is important so MU can prove they are better than KSU or at least that they are evenly matched. Then they face Kansas at Kansas in their hostile environment, and a win there would pretty much seal Mizzou's fate as a top team.
Next game at home is versus Oklahoma, and this could either make Missouri a top five team or lose to a more than respectable game that wouldn't affect Mizzou's status in the NCAA at all.
They beat Colorado at Colorado convincingly and get the job done at home versus KSU.
Begin first losing streak by losing at Kansas and vs. Oklahoma, and beating Texas A&M.
Finish 25-6 ranked between No. 15-20 and getting third seed in Big 12, which will set up KU vs. MU in a neutral site, which proves who is better (won't try predicting this one).