COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's basketball team is trying its best to be ready for the start of Big 12 Conference play in January. The Tigers will need to be — with five teams ranked in the AP top 25, the conference should be one of the best in women’s college basketball this season.
The Tigers are playing a much more challenging nonconference schedule than usual, including four games against top-25 teams. After a 1-1 start against two teams that won 20 games last season, the schedule only gets tougher. The Tigers trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament won’t be a walk on the beach. They face No. 4 Tennessee on Thanksgiving, followed by No. 12 Georgetown and Georgia Tech the next two days.
Missouri (1-1) vs. No. 4 Tennessee (4-0)
WHEN: 4:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday
WHERE: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Big 12 teams in the Top 25 rankings: Baylor (No. 2), Texas A&M (No. 8), Oklahoma (No. 11), Texas (No. 16), Iowa State (No. 19)
For a team with relatively little experience, a new coach and not much success in recent years, an easy nonconference schedule might have been just what the Tigers needed to ease into the season. But they don’t have that luxury, and the players certainly don’t mind an opportunity to play some of the best teams in the country.
“You come to college to play those teams,” guard RaeShara Brown said. “Growing up you watch those teams play on TV. As a player, you pride yourself on wanting to compete against those types of players with that type of intensity on that level. I couldn’t ask for anything better my senior year.”
The Tigers will avoid ranked opponents in December before finishing their nonconference schedule with a home game versus No. 15 Florida State and a trip to Cincinnati to face No. 5 Xavier. Both Xavier and Florida State reached the Elite Eight a season ago.
“The Big 12 is such a hard conference,” senior guard Jasmyn Otote said. “Getting the opportunity to play Xavier and Florida State, it’s going to prepare us even better for the Big 12.”
More games against ranked teams just means more chances for upsets.
“I think we can take some people by surprise if we just keep working together,” point guard Bekah Mills said. “This is what we came here for. We want to play the best teams, to be in that mix, so why not?”
Even the younger players who might not get any playing time versus the elite teams are excited about the schedule. Freshman Kishaun Williams said she’s going to be keeping a close eye on the opposing teams.
“We’re playing the top D-I teams and players,” she said. “They will really show me what I need to work on.”
Because nearly half the team is made up of freshman or players coming off knee injuries, new Missouri coach Robin Pingeton isn’t as excited as her players.
“I don’t know that it’s the nonconference schedule that this team is ready for,” Pingeton said. “It’s going to be a battle, no doubt about it. It’s going to prepare us for Big 12 play, which is a positive. It will not allow us to get a false sense of where we’re at by any stretch of the imagination. It is what it is.”