COLUMBIA — If the Missouri basketball team was looking for a good start to Big 12 play, it couldn’t have drawn up the schedule much better.
After Tuesday night’s 88-55 win over Coppin State, the Tigers are carrying a four-game winning streak into conference play. It’s the first time Missouri has been 13-2 since the 1994-95 season.
“We had some bumps in the road and I think that made us better,” DeMarre Carroll said. “That made us look a lot of things in a different perspective because we realize now that we’re not as good as we thought we were. We’ve just got to keep working. We can’t settle.”
Beginning Saturday at Nebraska, where Missouri got one of its two Big 12 road wins last season, the Tigers have probably the weakest opening schedule of anyone in the conference. The first three games are against three of the bottom four in the conference, according to both the preseason coaches poll and nonconference records. That includes a home game next Wednesday against 7-6 Colorado, which has lost three straight to non-BCS schools.
The next three are a bit more difficult, with a home game against a struggling Texas Tech team sandwiched between road trips to Oklahoma State and Kansas State. But Missouri doesn’t play a team in the top five in the conference’s preseason or actual rankings until a home game against 23rd ranked Baylor on January 31.
“I don’t think it matters at all,” Matt Lawrence said. “It doesn’t matter when we play them, we’re going to have to play everyone, so hopefully we can take care of home and that’s where we want to start.”
Anderson hopes the Tigers’ recent success can carry over, but it’s the Tigers’ loss to Illinois that he thinks gave his team the greatest lesson.
“I think it kind of brought an awareness to our guys on the level of play you’ve got to play all the time,” Anderson said. “So hopefully that’s something you can take into conference play.”
Of course, things will eventually even out, as Missouri faces a daunting final three games in March. Road trips to Kansas and Texas A&M are separated by a home game against Oklahoma, ranked #6 in the country. Wins early in the season might help Missouri avoid a must-win situation in March. But Anderson and his team are not concerned with where their opponents sit in the standings.
“I don’t see (our early schedule) as weaker,” Anderson said. “I think the conference is good. You’ve got to play teams. Every game’s going to be a tough game in our league.”