COLUMBIA — With the Missouri men's basketball team at 14-0, Tigers coach Frank Haith is off to the best start for a first-year coach at Missouri since 1920 when Craig Ruby's team started 17-0.
The accomplishment has Missouri fans excited, hopeful that a senior-laden team can challenge for a Big 12 Conference title and play deep into the postseason.
FOUR STILL PERFECT
No. 1 Syracuse (16-0): Beat Providence 87-73 on Wednesday. Hosts No. 20 Marquette on Saturday.
No. 4 Baylor (14-0): Beat Texas A&M 61-52 on Monday. Plays at Texas Tech on Saturday.
No. 7 Missouri (14-0): Beat Oklahoma 87-49 on Tuesday. Plays at Kansas State on Saturday.
No. 19 Murray State (15-0): Beat Eastern Kentucky 76-67 on Wednesday. Plays at Austin Peay on Saturday.
SATURDAY'S MISSOURI GAME
No. 7 Missouri (14-0, 1-0)
at No. 23 Kansas State (11-2, 0-1)
WHEN: 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Manhattan, Kan.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
Starting strong is nothing new to Haith or the Tigers. Finishing strong is another matter.
Last season with Haith at the helm at Miami, the Hurricanes finished nonconference play at 11-3, but with only seven conference wins they ended the season at 18-13. In the 2009-2010 season, the Hurricanes won all 14 of their nonconference games, but won only four conference games and finished at 18-12.
Last season, the Tigers also started well, going 14-1 in nonconference play before being upset by Colorado in their conference opener. They were ranked No. 9 in the AP poll. The Tigers went on to finish 8-8 in the Big 12. They steadily dropped in the polls, entering the NCAA tournament unranked and losing in the first round to Cincinnati.
Still, Missouri remains one of only four undefeated teams in the nation this season.
On Wednesday, No. 1 Syracuse (16-0) and No. 19 Murray State (15-0) both claimed victories to remain undefeated. Syracuse defeated Providence 87-73. Murray State defeated Eastern Kentucky 76-67.
Syracuse, No. 4 Baylor (the fourth remaining undefeated team this season at 14-0) and Murray State all play on Saturday. Syracuse hosts No. 20 Marquette. Baylor travels to Texas Tech, and Murray State travels to Austin Peay.
A convincing 87-49 win Tuesday over Oklahoma to start conference play for Missouri separates this season from Haith's previous ones. It was the largest margin of victory over a conference opponent in his head coaching career.
Haith has found success at Missouri so far, but he is giving the credit to his players.
"They compete every day at practice, and that’s a great quality to have. And that goes back to Coach Anderson or whatever, but they play hard," Haith said. "You’ve got good players, and our job’s easy."
The Tigers have their first conference away game on Saturday against No. 23 Kansas State (11-2). The Wildcats lost 67-49 at No. 14 Kansas on Wednesday night. On Jan. 21, Missouri travels to Waco, Texas, to face Baylor.
At this time last season, seven Division I teams remained undefeated: Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse, San Diego State, University of Central Florida, and Cincinnati. All but UCF made the NCAA tournament and advanced to the second round. Kansas advanced the furthest, losing in the Final Four to VCU.
Seven NCAA Division I men's basketball teams have finished seasons as undefeated national champions: San Francisco in 1956, North Carolina in 1957, UCLA in 1964, 1967, 1972 and 1973 and Indiana in 1976.
In 1954, Kentucky finished the regular season undefeated but declined an invitation to the NCAA tournament when the NCAA ruled graduate students were ineligible for the tournament. The 1976 North Carolina State Wolfpack also finished the regular season undefeated, but was ineligible for any postseason competition because of rule violations.
PHIL PRESSEY ON COUSY AWARD WATCH LIST
Tigers sophomore Phil Pressey has been named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award given to the nations top point guard by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
This list will be narrowed down to 10 by Feb. 1, and to five on March 1. The winner will be presented at the Hall of Fame's Class Announcement on Championship Monday in New Orleans as part of the NCAA Final Four weekend.