Missouri not perfect, but still dominating
KANSAS CITY — They didn't beat Texas so much as humor them for 40 minutes, the way a cat humors a mouse before it goes, "the hell with it," and swallows the thing whole.
"I'm pretty sure that people that have never played us say, ‘Yeah, they're a small team,' " Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe said with a shrug. "But people who had played us know we'll fight to the end, no matter how big you are. It doesn't matter."
Tigers 81, Texas 67. Some nights you're the cannon. Some nights, you're the fodder.
The Longhorns are a scrappy bunch. They won 20 games. They'll dance. Mizzou is clicking on the kind of cylinders you find under the hood at the Daytona 500.
The Tigers (29-4), when they're right, come at you in waves, like a force of nature in size 14 sneakers. They're so deep that late Friday, leading scorer Marcus Denmon missed all 10 of his shots from the floor, scored two points, and Missouri still clubbed another Bracketville-bound program, punching its ticket to the Big 12 Tournament championship game along the way.
Imagine if you caught them on a good day.
"I mean, that's how balanced our team is," said guard Phil Pressey, who drained five 3-pointers and dropped 23 points, a new collegiate best. "If one guy doesn't play the best game, somebody else steps up. Marcus, he might be back (Saturday). He may get 40 (Saturday)."
Ah, yes. Saturday. The Tigers held up their end of the bargain in the Big 12 semis. Kansas didn't. Instead, Missouri gets upstart Baylor in its final Kansas City dance as a member of the Big 12; Baptists on one side, Benedict Arnolds on the other. A Baylor-Texas final might've warmed the hearts of the league office in Irving, but it would've been the ultimate anticlimax for locals who wanted to see the rubber match between the Jayhawks and Tigers.
"I was a little shocked," Mizzou guard Michael Dixon said. "We pretty much thought Kansas was going to beat Baylor. Well, I did.
"Things happen. That's why you play the game. I wasn't really worried about the opponent. We're just worried about getting to the Big 12 championship and having the opportunity to win the Big 12 championship."
Pressed further, Dixon admitted that he wouldn't mind a crack at something else, too.
"Thirty wins during the regular season," the junior said, pleading his case to the suits on the NCAA selection committee in Indianapolis. "No bad losses. Three wins in three days. We're the most deserving of the No. 1 seed, I think, besides the obvious three."
The obvious three being …
"Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina. Or Duke. One of them. Depending on which one of them comes out of the ACC (title game)," he continued. "I think we're (picked) over whichever one is not the winner. Or if neither one of them is the winner, I think we should be in. I don't know who's the last one, but we should be one (of them), along with Kentucky and Syracuse."
The man makes a more than reasonable point. And yet, when the talk turns to Final Four sleepers, the horses you can ride all the way to the end of your bracket, nobody seems to say all that much about Missouri. Why?
"It doesn't really matter," Ratliffe said. "We don't expect for people to say, ‘Missouri,' because we don't have, I guess, the winningest program — they're always going to talk about the Kansases, the Carolinas, the Dukes."
Critics point to a seven-point loss at Oklahoma State on January 25, but the Tigers are 11-2 since. Missouri came out of Friday night with 10 wins and three losses against the RPI Top 50, and an 11-3 mark versus the RPI Top 100.
Compare that with rival Kansas, which was 12-6 versus the Top 100 and 12-5 versus the Top 50. North Carolina: 11-4 versus the Top 100, 9-4 versus the Top 50. Duke: 13-5, 7-5 versus the Top 50. Michigan State: 11-7, 9-5 versus the Top 50. Ohio State: 13-6, 8-5 versus the Top 50.
Stack them up against their peers, the Tigers pass the numbers test. Turned loose against the Longhorns, they passed the eye test, too.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com