We learned a little something about Missouri's basketball team last week. Frank Haith returned to the team, and against saltier competition Missouri was forced to actually attempt a real rotation after some mixing and matching earlier in the season. The results were solid enough -- two games, two wins, and stability at No. 47 in the Pomeroy rankings -- but now the ante gets raised a bit more. Whereas Mizzou's toughest opponent to date is No. 121 Northwestern, the Tigers will now welcome No. 56 West Virginia and No. 21 UCLA to town. Pomeroy gives them a 68% chance of beating WVU and 51% of beating UCLA; as we know from Win Probability School, that means there's only about a 35% chance of winning both games, but ... hey ... the football team only had about a 38% chance of beating both Ole Miss and A&M.
> Head Coach Frank Haith will make his Mizzou Arena return on Thursday ... Haith will coach his 302nd career game overall and is a spectacular 55-16 in three seasons at Missouri ... Haith was the fastest coach in school history to 50 wins and will have just one starter back for the second consecutive campaign.
> West Virginia is one of the country's top scoring teams this season and is averaging 85.1 points thanks to an outstanding backcourt and talented young frontline ... Bob Huggins' team is shooting 49 percent from the floor and 47 percent from three-point range this year ... That three-point percentage ranks No. 4 nationally ... The Mountaineers are making 10.0 treys per game and the club's scoring margin is +18.6 points per night.
> With his team's 96-47 win over Loyola (Md.), Huggins has 729 career victories in 32 years, tying him with Norm Stewart and Jerry Tarkanian for 16th on the all-time wins list ... Huggins will of course coach his team on Norm Stewart Court on Thursday ... He is 1-0 at Mizzou Arena all-time, winning 85-81 on Jan. 13, 2007.
On the schedule picking up strength …
"We knew we were going to be a new team, a young team. We have two seniors, and obviously, I think early on we had a couple games, we had our buy games, and then you always have a tournament in the holiday season, and going to Vegas, we played a Big Ten team, so it got tougher out in Vegas and now obviously, it takes another step. You look at the next games in succession. You’ve got West Virginia, UCLA, (Western Michigan), the Braggin’ Rights and then N.C. State at N.C. State, so it definitely gets tougher and tougher as we get toward league play."
On significance of this week looking ahead to March and NCAA Tournament positioning …
"Every game is important, but there’s no question when you have an opportunity like a power conference team, a team that I look at and watching tape on them, I think West Virginia will be very good in the Big 12. I think they’re much better than they were last year. Much better. They’re so efficient offensively, and I think Coach will tell you this. His team was not that good offensively as they are now. I mean, they’re really good offensively. Then you play a UCLA team, and we just saw them out in Vegas. Man, they’re really talented, really talented. I think they’re better than they were last year. If you’re able to have success against teams I think will do very well in their conferences, that definitely helps your resume."
Both the football and basketball games will be aired nationally on CBS, something Haith is excited for.
"What an opportunity for the university," Haith said. "They (the football team) didn’t have any one game on CBS. That team has been in the Top 10 all year. Are you kidding me? Now they are on CBS. And we’re on, too. What does that do for the Mizzou brand? For six hours that day, it’s Mizzou."
Some of Haith’s players though, see the football team’s success this season as not just a novelty, but as motivation as well. The basketball and football programs have their similarities. Both consider last season a disappointment and both were widely predicted to finish this year near the bottom of the standings.
Well, I'm not sure "fifth or sixth" equals "near the bottom," but whatever motivates the team, I'm all for it.