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No. 11 ranking brings new challenges

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 9:09 p.m. CST
A victory against Nebraksa on Saturday helped lift Missouri to No. 10 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 11 in the AP poll. As a result, they won’t be looked at as underdogs as they have for much of the season.

COLUMBIA—After a successful run as hunters, Missouri's basketball team has become the hunted.

Even when the Tigers were No. 17 and beat then-No. 16 Kansas on their home floor last Monday, ESPN's Ron Franklin immediately proclaimed that Missouri had "upset" the Jayhawks. With a No. 11-ranking and significant national exposure already this week, it's unlikely anyone else will be overlooking the Tigers.

"We were under the radar," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "We’re not under the radar anymore. We’re not a secret anymore and I think that’s a great thing. That’s what you work to get to, where people notice that you’re doing some great things."

But in this year's college basketball landscape, a ranking hasn't offered any protection against losses. Since the unveiling of the February 9 AP poll, 16 different ranked teams have lost, including some that have lost twice.

"Of course, when you’ve got a number by your name on ESPN a lot of teams want to come out and try to get an upset for the fans and everything like that," senior forward Leo Lyons said. "But we try to ignore it and play like it ain’t there."

In fact, the six teams directly in front of Missouri all lost at least once last week. As a result of all the upsets, Villanova, Kansas, Illinois and Purdue actually moved up in Monday's poll, despite a loss the previous week.

Of course, with six Big East teams, four ACC teams and three teams each from the Big 12 and Big 10 in the top 25, many of those losses come in inevitable matchups between ranked teams. But plenty of unranked teams have pulled off surprises, such as Boston College's win over then-No. 6 Duke and 8-13 Virginia's shocking overtime victory against then-No. 12 Clemson on Sunday.

Anderson knows his team won't be able to avoid all the attention it's getting, but it's his job to make sure it continues to prepare the same way. Lyons said that didn't happen when the Tigers first entered the rankings back in December and immediately lost to Illinois, 75-59.

"The first time we got ranked we kind of laid an egg because we were so happy we were ranked," Lyons said. "Now, we've kind of been there and we have experience about us so we know to go out there with a defensive mindset."


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