Missouri took down No. 5 Florida at home 63-60 Tuesday night, and in the process, the Tigers punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Of course, nothing is 100 percent certain when it comes to tournament berths, but with wins now over the Gators, VCU, Illinois, Ole Miss and Alabama, Missouri fans will be able to rest easy on Selection Sunday.
The tricky part isn’t figuring out if the Tigers belong in the tournament. No, the tricky part is figuring out which Missouri team will show up a month from now.
Will it be the team that beat Florida in an inspired effort that overcame a 13-point second half deficit? Or will it be the team that lost at Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU?
If the former shows up, Missouri is a darkhorse Final Four contender. If the latter shows up, however, the Tigers could find themselves in a similar situation to last year, losing in the Round of 64.
When Missouri is good, the Tigers can play with and beat any team in the country, something that was on full display Tuesday night. There is plenty of reason to believe the Missouri team that beat Florida will be the one we see for the rest of the season.
For one, Laurence Bowers had his best game since suffering a sprained MCL against Alabama on Jan. 8, an injury that forced him to miss five games. Missouri coach Frank Haith and Bowers have insisted he is fully healthy, saying it was a matter of Bowers mentally trusting his knee would hold up.
Bowers looked fantastic against the Gators, hitting mid-range jumpers and battling underneath for boards. He had a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds while also making the go-ahead jumper with 1:19 to go. It was his first double-double since Dec. 22 against Illinois.
“He was great,” Haith said during his postgame interview on ESPN. “He just got caught up in the game. I thought he was outstanding.”
With Bowers hitting on all cylinders, Missouri has every element one would want in a March contender. Missouri has an elite point guard and can score from all over the court. The Tigers are physical with the ability to defend and rebound at a high level.
The biggest blemish on Missouri’s resume is its inability to win true road games, where the Tigers are just 1-6 with the only win over lowly Mississippi State. All six losses are to teams with an RPI of 103 or better, according to CBSSports.com, and four of the six losses have come by three points or less.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they don’t have to play any true road games in the NCAA tournament, and they have shown they can win outside of Columbia with neutral court wins over Stanford, VCU and Illinois.
Now, Missouri will travel to take on Kentucky on Saturday, a game that means much more to the Wildcats than it does the Tigers, thanks to Missouri’s signature win Tuesday night.
When asked about the tournament implications after his team’s win over Florida, Haith played it cool.
“It’s a great win for us,” Haith said in his postgame interview on ESPN. “I don’t know that resume stuff. I just want us to continue to do the best we can each night.”
If Missouri does its best each night, no one will want to see the Tigers in their region come tournament time.