I'm not much for playing the respect card, but at some point you have to wonder - what does a team have to do to prove its bona fides?
The morning after Mizzou's win at nationally-ranked Texas moved the Tigers to 19-4 (6-2) and put them solidly in third place in the Big 12, ESPN's Andy Katz writes:
"It's official: Say hello to the Tigers as an [sic] potential NCAA tournament team. Missouri had to beat a potential NCAA tournament team on the road in the Big 12 -- and this certainly qualifies. Beating Baylor at home helped, but outlasting the Longhorns and moving to a legitimate 6-2 in the Big 12 (19-4 overall with wins over USC and Cal) makes Missouri a real player for an NCAA bid."
Potential tournament team? A real player for a bid? The team is number 10 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. They stood in the top 30 of the RPI even before the win. They've now collected two of the toughest road wins in the Big 12 (at Texas and Oklahoma State). They crushed a good Cal team at home and beat Southern Cal by nine on a neutral floor. Two of their four losses were on neutral courts against top 20 RPI teams, and the other two were conference road games against teams that have been surprisingly solid of late. If the season ended today, after 23 games, is there any doubt that Mizzou would be in? And as a five or six seed? Baylor and Kansas State are potential NCAA teams. Missouri, at this moment, is in.