Missouri knows all about flattery.
The Tigers jumped to No. 5 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll and to No. 6 in the coaches’ preseason poll. The coaches of the Big 12 Conference picked the Tigers to win the conference, and the AP had the Tigers second. The Tigers’ play in the first 12 games has not been worthy of their preseason acclaim, but you wouldn’t know it judging from opponents’ postgame comments.
After Syracuse gave the Tigers (6-6, 1-1 Big 12) their second home loss Monday, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said it is too early to give up on the Tigers.
“Missouri has got a good team,” Boeheim said. “Everybody’s down on them right now. They’ll bounce back, and they’re going to surprise a lot of people this year. Look at some of the games they’ve lost: a one-point game here, a one-point game there to some good teams. They have some new faces and they have to figure out which ones they can use.”
The margin of defeat in four Tiger losses has been five points or fewer. In addition, the Tigers, whose 82-68 loss to the Orangemen was their worst of the season, lost to Gonzaga 87-80 in overtime.
“Missouri’s a good basketball team,” Boeheim said. “I know their record is what it is. They will get it going; they have too many good seniors. I’m convinced they’ll still be an NCAA Tournament team at the end of the year.”
Against Coppin State on Dec. 2, the Tigers, then ranked No. 5 in the AP poll, started slowly before winning 70-61. Coppin State coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell said the Tigers displayed elements of an elite team.
“They’re still, to me, a Top 10 team,” Mitchell said. “They have a lot of talent, but they saw a defense they don’t normally see. If that’s the case, then they need to make adjustments. I guarantee they’ll make adjustments. Quin (Snyder) is an excellent coach; he’ll make the adjustments.”
More adjustments, though, might be needed. Coppin State caused problems for the Tigers with its zone defense. Since then, Illinois, Iowa State and Syracuse have used a 2-3 zone against the Tigers. Those teams defeated the Tigers. In the Tigers past four losses, they have scored 64.8 points per game.
The Tigers produced their best offense in their 106-98 win against UNC-Greensboro on Dec. 21, and coach Fran McCaffery said he was impressed with the Tigers’ strong performance.
“This team has so many weapons you have to pick your poison whether you want to defend the inside or the perimeter,” McCaffery said. “This team has the ability to beat you with their defense, in transition, with their offense, but they’re going to be a power in every game because of the way they rebound the basketball.”
Indiana coach Mike Davis, Memphis coach John Calipari, Iowa coach Steve Alford and Belmont coach Rick Byrd had similar postgame assessments of the Tigers.
The Tigers, though, received many of the positive remarks after less than positive performances, and optimistic comments and predictions won’t win games.
“With so much expectations, I think that’s what we got caught up in, just worrying about what everybody else thinks about us,” senior forward Travon Bryant said after the loss to Syracuse. “We just got to put that all to the side and worry about we have to save our season.”
TICKETS AVAILABLE: Fewer than 200 tickets are available for the Tigers’ games against Nebraska and Kansas State. The Tigers play Nebraska at 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 and Kansas State at 6 p.m. on Jan. 31.