The spring of 2011 was a tough time for Mizzou basketball fans. The Tigers had played uninspired ball in March, looking listless and out of sync amid rumors of Mike Anderson leaving for Arkansas. No one was surprised when the Tigers lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and despite a range of emotions from sorely disappointed to mad as hell, no one was really surprised when Anderson did indeed leave for Arkansas despite denying those rumors up until the time he left.
Little did we know that, despite more disappointments to come that offseason, Kim English planted the seed of stunning turnaround in the press conference after Anderson's departure at the 27:00 mark:
"Reconcile by winning" seemed like wishful thinking as the perceived home run hire of Purdue coach Matt Painter, loudly proclaimed to be a done deal by those in the know, disintegrated into an eight-year extension for Painter at Purdue. The hire of the low-profile Frank Haith, owner of a lackluster record at Miami in his only prior head coaching stint, had Mizzou fans in an uproar. Finally, in the cruelest blow, Laurence Bowers tore an ACL and was out for the season, leaving the Tigers perilously thin in the front court. English would suddenly have to play out of position as a power forward.
Then the season started. The tone was set with perhaps the most meaningful exhibition game that Mizzou has ever played, the One State, One Spirit Classic at Missouri Southern in Joplin. The Tigers followed that up by easily handling the lower tier teams on their schedule, including those in the regional rounds of the CBE Classic, to start the season 4-0. As the team headed to KC for the "real" CBE against the first "real" team of season, Notre Dame, Tiger fans didn't know what to expect.
Even the most optimistic Mizzou fans were stunned by the 87-53 dismantling of Notre Dame and the 92-53 destruction of California. Bill, who is never at a loss for words, was perilously close after the Cal game:
Not even sure what to say at this point. This is the best a Mizzou team has looked in November since either 2001 or ... the 1980s. Not even the 2008-09 team looked like this, this early. I guess that means the goal now is maintenance, maintenance, maintenance. But yeah ... wow.
This team was also establishing itself as one of the most fun Mizzou teams to watch ever. The offense could and would come from anywhere. Phil Pressey constantly fed Ricardo Ratliffe, who flirted with Steve Johnson's national shooting percentage record for most of the season, and the four-guard offense allowed Mizzou to spread the perimeter with guys who could shoot - Marcus Denmon, English, and Mike Dixon. While the defense was lacking at times, I've never seen a team pick up a teammate who was beaten off the dribble by taking a charge like this one.
The Tigers plowed through the rest of the non-conference season, highlighted by beating Villanova at Madison Square Garden and Illinois in St. Louis, and they were 14-0 headed into the final season of Big 12 competition.
Mizzou kicked off that season by crushing Oklahoma at home, 87-49. In his study hall piece, Bill said "This is what Mizzou stats look like when everybody plays well at the same time."
Next up: Manhattan, where murderball did the Tigers in again, putting an end to Mizzou's winning streak by dominating the boards (the Achilles heel of the 2012 Tigers) and shooting surprisingly well. After a relatively close scrape in Ames, the Tigers handled Texas and Texas A&M at home.
Next up was an epic battle at Baylor, with the Tigers winning 89-88. Bill details the surge that won them the game:
Mizzou called a 30-second timeout, up just 60-58. And then they went out and won the game.
9:35 - dunk by Ricardo Ratliffe (assist: Phil Pressey) (62-58)
9:16 - steal by Phil Pressey
8:58 - two free throws by Ricardo Ratliffe (64-58)
8:45 - steal by Phil Pressey
8:42 - layup by Phil Pressey (66-58)
8:27 - timeout by Baylor
8:17 - steal by Phil Pressey
7:59 - layup by Ricardo Ratliffe (assist: Phil Pressey) (68-58)
After Le'Bryan Nash played out of his mind at OSU, Mizzou won a sloppy game against Texas Tech at home before Frank Haith exhibited his dominance over his mentor Rick Barnes by guiding the Tigers to a one-point road victory at Texas.
Then came Kansas at home. I'll let CBonerfied take it from here:
This day will live large in the pantheon of Mizzou basketball memories. After a dynamic atmosphere for the basketball version of College Gameday, replete with Digger Phelps, a fog machine, and Mike Dixon professing his love for Holly Rowe and then speaking for all of us on how we feel about Kansas ("insert explicit content").
Somehow, the actual Mizzou-Kansas game would exceed the hype. A back-and-forth first half, where Marcus Denmon provided a prelude of things to come with a couple 3-pointers from Chillicothe, set the stage for what would be the best 2 minutes and 20 seconds that I can remember as a Mizzou basketball fan. Down 8, Mr. Soulcrusher went to work in what may have been the best individual performance in Mizzou Basketball history. A dribble drive led to a made bucket and a foul—5 point deficit. STEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVE would draw a charge from Sir Travels-A-Lot, Thomas "Still Whinin’" Robinson, that caught the ire of Dick Vitale, Doug Gottlieb, and those fantastic ESPN analysts. (Steve was set. Good call.) Denmon nailed another three to cut the KU lead to two, and Mizzou pressure would force a "Triple T": Tyshawn Taylor Turnover. (Those three statements sound like they belong together, don’t they?) And somehow, Marcus Denmon found the space to get another shot off. Would you believe it went in? I believe, Sir. I believe.
Chaos ensued, both in Mizzou Arena and my household as I had to do everything I could not to wake up my three-month old daughter. Phil Pressey had a chance to extend the Tiger lead but missed the front end of a one-and-one, which led to another KU chance to take the lead…but Mike Dixon drew a charge from Taylor on a fantastic defensive play. Two made Dixon free throws later, and good defense leading to a bad tying attempt that wasn’t close, and it was party time in Columbia. 74-71, Good Guys, in probably the last game we will have against those j-holes in our town. For anyone wanting to reminisce, here’s a way to do so. Cue it up to 1:08:03.
Next up was a tough road match against Oklahoma. Showing their intestinal fortitude, the Tigers gutted out a 71-68 victory. Baylor paid a return visit to Columbia, and Mizzou pulled away in the second half for a solid 72-57 victory. It was then OSU's turn to visit Columbia, and the Tigers delivered payback with a thorough beating that looked closer than it was thanks to Keiton "Garbage Time" Page. Then, for the first time in seemingly forever, Mizzou went into College Station and left with a W, thanks largely to some fine shooting by Kim English.
Frank Martin's squad appeared in Columbia and did what Frank Martin teams do to undersized teams, but with the magical bonus of shooting 67% from beyond the arc. Ugh. Naturally, the Nemesis would take a job in the SEC just to troll us. He just can't quit us, but that's a story for another day. To confine the ugliness to one paragraph, the Tigers final visit to the Phog started well but ended poorly. We as fans question officiating all the time, but when a coach says "I want to see that foul" in a post-game news conference, you know it is bad.
Back at home on Senior Night, the Tigers held off a determined Iowa State team, 78-72. They then closed out the regular season on the road with a 81-59 thrashing of Texas Tech. English and Denmon went for 20 and 17 respectively, and the Tigers made 16 three pointers.
Now came the pinnacle of the season for Mizzou - their run through their final Big 12 Tournament. Here's what I said about these games in my March 2012 review:
March 8 - The hoops team destroyed Oklahoma State in the first half of their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal game, 47-18, before OSU pulled their patented "We're down by 30, let's play out of heads" maneuver, resulting in a deceivingly close 88-70 final. Mizzou outrebounded OSU 40-20, a truly astounding feat for this team. Key first half stats: 6.67 BCI and +8 expected rebounds.
March 9 - In the Big 12 semifinal versus Texas, Marcus Denmon was a complete non-factor. His adjusted game score was all of 0.2. You might think that the Tigers would be in trouble, but Phil Pressey, Kim English, and Ricardo Ratliffe more than made up for Denmon's bad day, leading Mizzou to an 81-67 victory over the Longhorns, setting up a final against Baylor. The Bears defeated Kansas, ruining the anticipated rubber game in the season series and a new "last game" ever. Perhaps Kansas was already refusing to play Missouri.March 10 - Five players score 15 points in a 90-75 victory over Baylor for the Big 12 Championship. Frank Haith's squad is flying high at 30-4, accomplishing what no one dreamed they would at the beginning of the season. S-E-C chants fill the auditorium in a giant kiss-off to the Big 12. Kim English was "Best Kimmie" for three games, and Phil Pressey had an excellent three games as well. The Tigers were at the pinnacle.
What prevents this magical team from finishing higher on this list is what happened next. A questionable seeding, a bad match-up, and once again, a team shooting out of its mind put a premature end to a surprisingly wonderful basketball season featuring a team that could blow teams out of the gym when they were on and gut out tough wins when they weren't. Laurence Bowers was hurt, but he cheered so hard from the bench that I was worried he'd re-injure his knee. Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Steve Moore, Ricardo Ratliffe, and Matt Pressey (and Jarret Sutton as well) made their senior season one to remember despite a ton of pre-season adversity.