Missouri Tigers: Tigers Must Grasp Golden Opportunity

Robert GivensContributor IFebruary 22, 2010

BOISE, ID - MARCH 20:  Guard Marcus Denmon #12 of the Missouri Tigers stands on the court during the game against the Cornell Big Red in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Taco Bell Arena on March 20, 2009 in Boise, Idaho.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Success, what do they say about it? It's when opportunity meets preparation?

Countless hours shooting, dribbling, and lifting in the offseason took care of the latter part of the formula. It only took a Saturday full of Big 12 action to provide the Missouri Tigers with the former.

After last weekend's contests, the Missouri Tigers find themselves in sole possession of fourth place in the Big 12 conference. Sure, while fourth place is wonderful to see for a team picked to finish seventh in the preseason, this place in the standings stands for something else besides the fact preseason rankings are pointless.

A Big 12 Tournament first round bye.

With Baylor losing at Oklahoma State last Saturday, the Tigers lay sole claim to the fourth spot in the Big 12. While both have 8-4 league marks, Texas A&M receives the nod over Mizzou thanks to the Aggies 77-74 victory in Columbia February 3rd.

Heading into the home stretch, the Tigers look to be hitting on all cylinders. Last week was the first time this season Missouri has won both their Wednesday and Saturday game in a calendar week. In addition, statistics would show they are making efforts to remedy their two biggest weaknesses of the season.

Last Wednesday, the Tigers held the Texas Longhorns, the Big 12's leader in rebounding at 43.6, to 39 boards. While still out-rebounded by seven, the Tigers made great strides in their glass-work when compared to the 35-23 margin faced at Baylor or the 41-25 embarrassment at the hands of Texas A&M two weeks prior. In their most recent contest, Missouri out-rebounded Nebraska 30-24 including a season-high eight from guard Zaire Taylor.

In that same game, the Tigers shot 58 percent from three, much improved from their 39 percent season mark. More importantly, this performance laid to rest, if just until the next game, fans' fears in Columbia over shot selection.

Often times this year, especially on the road, when finding themselves in the middle of an opposition's runs, the Tigers have elected for the quick three instead of the natural one that comes off their patented "fastest forty minutes."

Depending on how the rest of conference play shakes out, the Tigers could face any number of opponents in the Big 12 tournament. However, with a fourth place finish, they would avoid a potential upset versus the likes of Oklahoma or Texas Tech (OU beat MU in their only matchup this year, TT took them to overtime) while giving them extra days of rest and practice. Their remaining four games are versus Colorado, at Kansas State, at Iowa State, and versus Kansas.

Wins in two of those games should be good enough for a fourth place finish. Either way, the Tigers must stay focused and bring the same intensity to every game, whether it be the Buffaloes or the Jayhawks. Instead of complacency, Missouri must take momentum away from games against lesser opponents and positively use this force against their more anticipated matchups.

Because it'd be an awful shame to waste all that preparation on this golden opportunity.