COLUMBIA — They don’t like to look ahead. There is no in-depth pondering on their future. If you’re looking for predictions, you came to the wrong people.
Members of the Missouri men's basketball team insist on taking a day-by-day, game-by-game approach when asked about their struggle to win Big 12 Conference road games, but the future of the Tigers’ season might become difficult to ignore if the travel troubles continue.
No. 20 Missouri Tigers (20-6, 6-5 Big 12)
at Iowa State Cyclones (14-12, 1-10 Big 12)
WHEN: 12:45 p.m.
WHERE: Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
After Missouri’s loss to Colorado in January, the question was asked. Four losses later and the question comes regularly now. The phrasing varies, but the topic of the query doesn't change. What needs to happen for Missouri to win a Big 12 Conference road game?
The question was waiting for Missouri coach Mike Anderson after his team beat Texas Tech on Tuesday. After two consecutive home wins, the Tigers play Iowa State in Ames on Saturday. Anderson didn't skip a beat and answered the same way he has all season.
“I just talk about us getting better. It’s the next game on our schedule,” Anderson said.
Anderson's players answer the question like students who believe fully in their teacher. Their responses are the same and often use the coach's exact phrases.
One day at a time. Control the next practice. Control the next game, home or away.
Yet, March creeps closer. A month of basketball madness approaches and the NCAA Tournament buzz is beginning. Anderson won’t speculate that far ahead. The players say it’s not on their minds. But thoughts of the future are becoming harder to file away.
"It’s in the back of your head, but you don’t really talk about it,” Missouri junior forward Steve Moore said. “We do what we can control now.”
For Missouri, this means beating Iowa State on Saturday to get the loss-monkey off its back. The Tigers beat the Cyclones earlier this season in Columbia, but they have learned that no win is guaranteed, especially on the road.
“It’s a different feel. You can’t compare scores. You can’t compare two games,” Missouri junior guard Kim English said after the Texas Tech win.
English called the Big 12 road game a “different beast.” Moore was less mystical in his explanation.
“People take pride in protecting their home turf,” he said. “That basically sums it up.”
If Missouri’s struggles on the road continue, the tournament will be harder to ignore. Already, analysts are predicting how the bracket will line up.
"I mean, of course, you know, if you play basketball you’re a big fan of everything that’s going on with the NCAA (Tournament). You see all the bracketology and stuff like that on TV,” Missouri junior forward Laurence Bowers said. “But, you’ve got to be strong-minded and not buy into that.”
Missouri has a spot on most of the early brackets, but the team has three more conference games on the road. A final resume without a conference road win will not be viewed kindly by the Tournament Selection Committee.
"That’s just someone’s opinion right now. We’ve just got to take one game at a time. We can’t overlook Iowa State. They’re capable. We’ve just got to go out and take it day-by-day and hopefully we’ll have a great seed," Bowers said.
That’s as close as Bowers will get to a look ahead. Perhaps he has pondered on the future too much. His focus needs to stay on what's most important, Saturday's game. And on that subject, he offers as close to a prediction as he can muster.
“We know how it feels to come home after a loss from being on the road five times already," Bowers said. "It’s not a good feeling. I really think we are going to change that around on Saturday."