COLUMBIA — After some rough patches, the Missouri men’s basketball team has the chance to end its nonconference schedule on a high note Tuesday night against UMKC.
“It’s a new year,” coach Mike Anderson said. “And right now we are undefeated.”
If only that was the case.
Actually, the Tigers are 9-5 and coming off a tough 87-75 loss Dec. 30 at Mississippi State.
The defeat highlighted a glaring problem in Missouri’s nonconference résumé. The Tigers have struggled to win on the road.
The Tigers lost all three road games and two of three games on neutral courts. The one exception was an 84-70 win over Maryland in November in front of a pro-Missouri crowd in Kansas City.
There have been positives. If Missouri wins tonight it will improve to 9-0 at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers shouldn’t have much trouble against UMKC (5-11), but after that, competition increases. Missouri’s next two home games are against No. 14 Texas and No. 3 Kansas.
“Were very confident that we are going to do very well in these upcoming games,” Missouri guard J.T. Tiller said. “We can take opponents by surprise. We know what we can do, but we are going to take other people by surprise.”
Despite its five losses, Missouri played seven teams from major conferences. Three of the losses were by a combined five points, so the players aren’t feeling too bad.
“I’d say out of 10, I’d probably give us a six or a seven,” Tiller said of Missouri’s nonconference results. “Losing those games by one or two or three points, that just takes a couple points of right there because we know we could have won. I would give us a six or a seven because of the effort.”
Added Anderson: “We always talk about, you want to be competitive and our guys have been competitive every game. There are windows of opportunities and you’ve got to make plays.”
Missouri has practiced for eight days since the Mississippi State game, which was hardly a rest even though Anderson didn’t live up to his threat of two practices per day.
“When we got thru with practice it seemed like two-a-days,” Anderson said.
Like they have done most of the season, the Tigers focused on defense coming into tonight’s game, specifically being more poised and making stops.
Missouri might not have done quite as well as it hoped in the first half of the season, but at least Tiller thinks the Tigers are more prepared to start Big 12 Conference play this year. After an easy nonconference schedule last year, Missouri started the conference season with four straight losses.
“Now we are ready physically and also mentally,” Tiller said. “The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in the nation. Having those tougher teams under our belt just gives us better insight on what’s to come in the second half of the season.”