When the 2009 season tipped for the Missouri Tigers, there was a lot of uncertainty and little expectation.
Boy, did that change fast.
Missouri has had an incredible turnaround season—from mediocrity and a .500 season to Big 12 and NCAA tournament contenders.
Missouri's seed is uncertain as far the NCAA tournament is concerned, but regardless of what seed they end up with, they are going to be tested from the opening tip. Missouri has the depth and athleticism to make it deep in the NCAA tournament, but there are five teams this year that Missouri should not want to face in their region of the bracket.
1. The Powerhouse
If Missouri is matched up with UConn in this year's NCAA tournament, expect a big loss, and here's why. If there is one weakness on this Missouri team, it's size—size at the power forward and center position. Some might say they make up for this in athletic big men, but this isn't the case.
Missouri faced some superior talent this year in the Big 12 when it comes to big men. Missouri's matchup with Texas was a close game throughout. Part of the reason Texas stayed in the game was because of their center Dexter Pittman. This 6'10", 298-pound center bruised and battled his way to 25 points and 12 rebounds, his best game of the year. Missouri wasn't able to contain him.
Another team Missouri struggled to contain is Blake Griffin. Yes, Griffin is probably the player of the year this year in college basketball. But there is no reason why one player should be able to grab 21 rebounds in one game. Missouri managed to snag as a team just 40 boards for the entire game; Griffin grabbed half of their total by himself.
UConn's big men, Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, are two of the best big men in the country. Together the two average 30 points a game, 20 rebounds, and six blocks. Missouri, although athletic, doesn't have the size to match up with this 7'3" and 6'7" duo. UConn would dominate in the paint, and Missouri would struggle mightily.
2. The Sleeper
If Missouri is matched up against the Butler Bulldogs this year, expect trouble. Some are going to argue that Butler hasn't had a tough enough schedule this year. That is not true. They beat a solid Xavier team this year, who is ranked No. 18 in the country, and steamrolled their conference with 15 wins.
Missouri struggles against solid teams. By solid teams, I mean teams who don't have that standout player for their squad, or teams that feel comfortable with anyone shooting it in any given situation.
When Missouri loses games, they're usually ugly losses: 16-point loss to Illinois, 16 to K-State, 25 to Kansas, and 10 to Texas A&M. These are teams that don't have NBA-ready players who are going to enter the draft this year.
The Butler Bulldogs are the perfect definition of a complete team. When your leading scorer for your team averages 14 points, you know your team is distributing the ball and the points well. They take care of the ball, averaging only 13 turnovers a game.
Butler also has one of the youngest and most enthusiastic coaches in all of college basketball. Brad Stevens is just 32 years old and is in his second year with the Bulldog program. In his first two seasons with the team, he's compiled 55 wins and just eight losses. More than half the squad that reached the second round last year is back and ready to be this year's sleeper team.
3. The Usual
Missouri beat expectations this year, and the Big 12 wasn't expecting it. If Missouri is forced to face Big 12 rival Kansas, it could spell for disaster, as much as I hate to say that as a Missouri fan.
After Missouri lost at Kansas by 25 points and barely beating them in Columbia, Kansas has the momentum in this rivalry. Kansas is on a hot streak right now and like Missouri, has overachieved and repeated as Big 12 regular season champions.
Kansas is playing extremely good basketball, beating all of the Big 12's top 5 teams. They have had a fantastic non-conference schedule, playing teams such as Michigan State, Syracuse, Tennessee, and Washington. Although they didn't win all these games, it certainly tested them early and has helped them become tournament ready.
4. The Bruiser Team
One of the toughest and most talented teams Missouri doesn't want to face is the Pittsburgh Panthers. Missouri hasn't played a team this physical all season. Pitt would create several problems for Missouri, one being that they are not intimidated by Missouri's press and are able to control the tempo of the game.
Pittsburgh finished second in the Big East. Some don't consider the Big East a conference, and that's fine. But no one can deny, from top to bottom, that the Big East doesn't have the best teams.
Pittsburgh, in my opinion, is the top team in the Big East. They have 28 wins this season and are going to be a force to be reckoned with come Madness time. They have beaten eight top 25 teams, including UConn twice while they sat at the top spot in the country.
Teams with senior experience often do well in the NCAA tournament. Pitt features three senior starters who lead this team night in and night out. They play some of the most physical basketball in the country, which I believe Missouri would struggle against.
Pitt's physical strength at every position and senior leadership is going to be tough for Missouri to face if they meet up with Pittsburgh in a possible Elite Eight/Final Four matchup.
5. The Cinderella
The Virginia Commonwealth Rams (VCU) will be this year's Cinderella story.
VCU just finished winning their regular season conference and tournament titles. They return the key players from the team that upset Duke just two years ago. They have one of the most underrated senior leaders in the country, and he is primed to finish his career in fantastic fashion.
Eric Maynor is the leading scorer and key component to this team's success. Maynor averages 23 points a game for Rams and is an expected top 10 pick in this year's NBA draft. Being a senior, and having experienced NCAA tournament success before, he will be this year's Stephen Curry. He is the player, as a sophomore, who hit the game-winning shot against Duke two years ago.
Missouri would struggle to contain him if these two teams met up in the NCAA tournament.
Missouri is a fantastic basketball team who, when playing well, can beat anyone in the country. I just hope, as a Tigers fan, that Missouri stays far, far away from these five teams when the brackets are released this Sunday.
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