If I had told you at the beginning of the year that the Missouri Tigers would make the NCAA tournament, would you have believed me?
What if I had told you they would make the Sweet Sixteen?
You would've thought I was crazy.
What about the Elite Eight?
You'd have been making calls to put me in the nearest insane asylum.
But guess what?
You can find the black and gold of Mizzou in Glendale, Arizona. They're preparing to take on the Huskies of UConn for a chance to go to the Final Four.
Now how crazy am I?
These Tigers have so vastly exceeded everyone's expectations that it almost can't be described. Last year, they started out strong but finished with a 16-16 record. Many issues off the court led to several players being kicked off the team, and it made things worse for those who remained.
Stephon Hannah, the team's star point guard last season, was removed from the team after getting in a bar fight and having his jaw broken. The rest of the season seemed to just drag on. No on cared about the team because their best player was gone.
What in the world happened?
The Tigers came into this season with a new mentality. They were going to leave the issues of last year behind them, and they were going to play this season with the intensity that coach Mike Anderson expected of the Tigers.
The Tigers started the season on a roll, winning 9 of their first 10. The only loss came against Xavier in a late game thriller where the Tigers came up short in a 75-71 game. Their next loss didn't come until they played Illinois, 8 games later.
Mizzou finished the regular season with a record of 25-6. It was one of the best seasons in school history. Forward DeMarre Carroll was named to the Big 12 All-Conference team, and guard J.T. Tiller was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12.
He shared the award with Kansas center Cole Aldrich.
Missouri then proceeded to blow past everyone in the conference tournament, beating Baylor in the championship. This guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance, and gave Tiger fans reason to celebrate.
But no one had high expectations. After all, they were only the Missouri Tigers. They couldn't go very far in the tournament...could they?
On Selection Sunday, the Tigers were given the 3 seed in the West bracket. That meant that their first game would be against Cornell out of the Ivy League.
Mizzou fans were thinking again: "Well, they'll probably make it past the first round, but nowhere after that."
Mizzou did beat Cornell, advancing to the second round against Marquette.
For anyone who watched that second round game, it was a thriller. Marquette guard Dominic James, who had missed the last 6 games with a broken foot, had been cleared to play.
The game came down to the wire. J.T. Tiller came flying down the baseline, looking for an easy layup. He was fouled on the play, but hurt his wrist and went to the bench.
Freshman guard Kim English came in and sank the two most important free throws of his life. As Marquette's Lazar Hayward tried to inbound the ball, he stepped over the line and gave the ball back to Mizzou.
The Tigers were going to the Sweet Sixteen.
It was this one that everyone thought would send the Tigers packing. In their Sweet Sixteen matchup, Missouri would be playing the Memphis Tigers.
Memphis had won Conference USA during the regular season and came into the tournament as the 2 seed in the West bracket. Outstanding freshman guard Tyreke Evans had been a force all year for Memphis, and no one thought he could be contained.
No one gave Missouri a chance against Memphis, who was also the best defensive team in the country.
Well, the doubters were half right.
Tyreke Evans could not be contained.
But it didn't matter.
The Mizzou Tigers finished the first half with a 13 point lead.
It was capped by freshman guard Marcus Denmon's 65 foot desperation heave at the buzzer. Just seconds earlier, Denmon had sunk a 3-pointer that had been reviewed and called a 2 point shot.
So he decided to step back 40 feet and say, "Is that one far enough for you?"
The Tigers started the second half hot, leading by as many as 24 points.
But it was the NCAA tournament. Nothing ever comes that easy.
Memphis staged a furious comeback, closing the gap to 6 points, though they could not finish. They used all of their energy to try and close the point gap, but it left them too tired to finish what they started.
Missouri won the game 102-91. It was the first time that anyone had hung triple digits on Memphis in nine years, and it showed the rest of the country that Mizzou is no slouch. They here to play basketball.
And it doesn't matter who stands in their way.
So now the Tigers are in the Elite Eight. Their opponent will be basketball powerhouse UConn, with 7'3" center Hasheem Thabeet.
No on gives Missouri much of a chance in this game. Most just think, "There's no way they going to get much over a guy as tall as Thabeet."
But you know what? I'm picking Missouri to win this game.
Their transition offense is as explosive as any in the country. Thabeet is going to continually be running back and forth down the court. He'll get tired.
You know what big men in basketball do when they're tired?
And if Thabeet gets in foul trouble, there isn't going to be a 7'3" center standing there. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons with be able to play their game and get points in the paint.
Even if that doesn't work, UConn only has one real 3-point threat on the team. That would be dynamic guard A.J. Price.
Guess who's going to be guarding Price for most of the game?
Defensive player of the Year J.T. Tiller.
The Tigers have several guards who can knock down 3-pointers. Matt Lawrence and Kim English have the pure shooting ability to turn a 5-point deficit into a 10-point lead in a heartbeat.
I like the Missouri Tigers to upset the UConn Huskies and advance to the Final Four. Crazy things happen in the Big Dance, and I think this will be one of them.
Mike Anderson has said all year that his team plays "the fastest 40 minutes in basketball."
Over the course of the year, other teams expanded on that name.
Now they call the Tigers "40 minutes of hell."
And I don't think there's any better way to describe it.
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