2010-11 Mizzou Basketball Preview, Part Four: Great Expectations

In 1976, when I was eight years old, I walked into my local record store and walked out with the defining artifact of my childhood, a package that perfectly synthesized two of my favorite things, cartoons and loud noises.  It was the KISS album Destroyer, and the cover alone filled me with the kind of awe and anticipation I later felt the first time I climbed aboard a roller coaster or stepped onto a New York City sidewalk.  What have I gotten myself into?


There were four heavy metal gods, menacing and muscled, standing atop the smoldering remains of either Babylon or some hockey arena they had just obliterated and seeming to say there will be rock, there will be fire, there will be blood.


After I worked up the nerve to peel the shrink wrap and drop the needle, I was hit flush in the face with "Detroit Rock City" and "Flaming Youth," and heebie-jeebied by "God of Thunder," which felt like a creeping apocalypse, the source of many nightmares to come.


But there was another song, more obscure, that opened up vistas of imagination.  It seemed important.  It seemed grand.  It seemed to herald the coming of something new.  It was a power ballad.  It was called "Great Expectations."  And I knew that it was an important piece of art.


I knew that then.  Now I know that it’s Gene Simmons hectoring women about how unworthy they were of the chance to be splendidly defiled by him.  I would call it subtext, but with Gene, there’s just text.  Sure, at eight, I thought "you see what my mouth can do" meant singing.  By nine, I knew better.  Today, I realize the song is all kinds of terrible, but I digress.  Let’s go back to the Gerald Ford years.


Or the Reagan years, when I learned that Charles Dickens had ripped off my hard rock heroes by naming a novel Great Expectations.  I felt indignant for a while, but all is forgiven, Chuck, because there’s honor among thieves, and I’m swiping the name for this-here missive.


Get ready, Missouri basketball fans.  You’ve got great expectations.  And those are the hardest kind to have.


*                                   *                                   *


Honestly, when was the last time you entered a season feeling like this?


The 2008-09 season rocked your world all night (and partied every day), but you didn’t see it coming.  Then last year, you got what you thought, a team with a chance to make the NCAAs, maybe win a game, but without the weapons to do more.


The last time you had real expectations was eight years ago.  The Tigers, coming off an Elite Eight run, returned a stellar junior class bolstered by a hot shot point guard from the College of Southern Idaho and a high-profile young coach who turned down huge money from his hometown school to build a powerhouse in Columbia.  It was there for the taking.  A new era of Mizzou hoops was upon us. 


And how were your expectations rewarded?  With the catastrophic implosion of Missouri basketball.


Expectations exist to break your heart.  Don’t fall prey to them again.


Still, something whispers.


Last year at Missouri, senior starters J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey combined to average 23.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.  Last year at Central Florida Community College, new Tiger Ricardo Ratliffe averaged 27.4 points and 11.4 boards on his own.  If Ratliffe is 65% as productive this season, he will more than replace the combined scoring of Tiller and Taylor.  If he’s 80% as productive, he will more than replace the rebounding of Taylor and Ramsey.


If your memory goes back a little further, recall how you felt in February 1990.  Your Tigers were 25-2, ranked number one, and led by two of the best players ever to wear the uniform.  They went to Oklahoma and lost, but no big deal.  Oklahoma was great in those days.  The Tigers came back home and beat Kansas State to clinch the Big Eight championship.  Bigger things loomed.  The Final Four.  A national title.  Expectations!  Then they traveled to Notre Dame for a nationally televised game.  NBC did a halftime segment on the new book Raw Recruits which alleged that Mizzou’s staff had cheated to open a pipeline of players from Detroit.  The Irish rolled by 31 to close the regular season.  The top-seeded Tigers moved on to the Big Eight Tournament to play eighth-seeded Colorado.  No eight-seed team had ever won a game, at least not until that day when the Buffs won in overtime.  From there, the Tigers stumbled into the NCAA Tournament.  They faced Northern Iowa in the first round and lost on a three-pointer at the buzzer.  Your expectations, and something inside you, died on the spot.


If the 2010-11 Tigers win 22 or more games, they will set a school record for victories over a three-year period.  The current mark has been accomplished twice.  The first time, the stars over the span were Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold.  The second time, they were Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler.


At the Final Four in 1979, Norm Stewart received calls from two high school seniors who pledged their commitments to Missouri.  Expectations lit the sky.  And by any reasonable measure, those expectations were met.  Over their careers, Steve Stipanovich and Jon Sundvold won 100 games and four Big Eight titles.  But expectations aren’t bound by reason.  As the Boss sang, poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything. 


And this was the Tigers’ moment, Missouri’s chance to rule everything.  It all built to 1982, when Stipo and Sundvold were juniors and senior Ricky Frazier was the league’s MVP.  The Tigers won their first 19 games, topped the polls for the first time, and won the conference tournament.  They beat Marquette to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in St. Louis.  The stars aligned.  Win two games on home soil and move on to the promised land.  Missouri’s opponents in the regional semifinal were all but anonymous.  But soon the whole world would know them as Phi Slamma Jamma.  Houston beat the Tigers by one, 79-78.


Journey was wrong.  Just stop believin’.


If Mizzou replicates its win total from 2008-09, Justin Safford will graduate with 101 victories as a Tiger.  That’s one more than the record held by Stipanovich and Sundvold. 


Despite all the heartbreak, Mike Anderson and his Tigers have turned you into a hoop-hungry Fox Mulder: You Want to Believe.  And, face it, this group of Tigers has never given you reason not to.  Anderson inherited a smoldering landscape like the one on the cover of Destroyer and built a program on top of it.  And despite all that he has done, people bet against him, pick his team to finish seventh in the league (the past two years) or fifth (this season).  The Big 12 coaches have set low expectations for Mike Anderson’s teams.   But though you want to keep your own expectations in check, you know better.


If they advance to the Sweet 16, the Tigers will break a school record for NCAA Tournament wins over a three-year span.  They will also break the record for wins over a four-year span and a five-year span.


As Anderson rebuilt the program, first with players left by Quin Snyder, and then with his own under-the-radar recruits, you kept thinking "just wait until he gets some elite talent."


This guy is about to start his freshman year as a Missouri Tiger. 


"And wait until he mixes it with some proven veteran, talent."

Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers have never failed to make the NCAA Tournament or to win a game there. English will top 1,000 career points this season. Denmon might. Bowers will reach that milestone as a senior.

"And adds the one missing piece."

The aforementioned two-time junior college All-American, reigning juco national player of the year. Maybe another blue-chip freshman.

And then you give in. This year is THE year. Next year is, too. The Tigers’ time to rule everything.

Mizzou fans, you’ve got great expectations. Shout it out loud.


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