(Photo by Casey Sapio/USA Today Sports)
The Missouri Tigers basketball program is at a crossroads: the team is 5-4, the same record at this point last season where they finished 9-23. This 2015 Missouri squad feels different: they’re more energetic, more consistent, more fun. But are they better?
We’ll find out over the next two games. The Tigers welcome the North Carolina State Wolfpack to Columbia tomorrow and have a neutral site Braggin’ Rights showdown in St. Louis against Illinois.
In my opinion, they can win these games. NC State needed a buzzer beater to beat High Point on Wednesday night, and Illinois has just been decimated by injuries.
However, they do not make these games any less significant for this Missouri team. They need to win at least one of these next two, and I’d argue that in order to really call this season an improvement, both.
There are solid building blocks here in Kevin Puryear and Terrence Phillips, but they’re freshmen. None of the returning sophomores have really taken that next step to becoming a reliable scorer, and Wes Clark hasn’t fully returned to form after that horrific elbow injury last February.
Up until Sunday, this team looked like it was having fun with each other on the floor, and I’m guessing that had their confidence high. Well that loss to Arizona either humbled them greatly or completely dejected them.
If they were bummed about that beatdown that better have lasted until the plane landed back in Columbia that night, as they can’t have any layover from that game come tomorrow evening.
The Wolfpack did just squeak by High Point, but they did beat LSU and took Michigan and Arizona State down to the wire.
Illinois gives up a lot of points, but they score a lot of points too. They have a number of close losses, including Notre Dame, Iowa State, and Providence. At 6-5 they’re in a very similar position to Missouri in a make or break stretch right before conference season.
I believe in order to get the Braggin’ Rights in St. Louis against Illinois, the Tigers need to take care of business at home against the Wolfpack. I think they could either get both games or get none of them.
Based on what I saw Sunday, I have a bad feeling that it’s going to be the latter and we start to see the ghosts of last season reemerge. I say NC State wins a close game at Mizzou Arena 65-61.