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Winning feels good, and Missouri may have figured out its best self

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Missouri has found a recipe for success, which is hopefully a good harbinger for the future.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

How about that? Mizzou has been playing well and winning games for like a week and a half now! Great, right?

The cold reality of the season has withered slightly, with small levels of success and making us all feel slightly giddy about Mizzou basketball for the first time in a long time. With the Tigers winning games, there’s a slight return of this thing called hope that we’d long since forgotten about. It was about December 18 when the reality of the season crashed and burned for me.

So how have the Tigers captured this small amount of magic in a bottle, culminating with their biggest win over a power conference team in the Kim Anderson era? Let’s take a look.

Jordan Barnett is pretty good.

Probably the most important aspect of the last three games has been the emergence of consistency from Jordan Barnett. Barnett has proven to be the guy Missouri hoped for as a primary go-to, something the team desperately needed.

When Barnett became eligible, the hope was that the Tigers would gain the go-to guy they’d been in search of for the last three years. Expectations were a bit unfair at the outset, considering Barnett had barely seen the floor in his first season plus at Texas, and he’s certainly hit some bumps in the road. But since being added to the roster he’s putting up 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. In SEC play, in games MIzzou hasn’t lost by double digits, he’s at 18.1 and 7.

Barnett Dunk Gif

In the last three games, Barnett has improved his 3-point shooting, hitting 52.3% of his 3s. When Barnett is playing well, the ceiling for the Tigers goes up significantly.

The “Big Four” has found consistency?

Beyond Barnett, the Tigers have found success by having at least three of their best four players providing consistent scoring. Kevin Puryear, K.J. Walton, Barnett, and Terrence Phillips are vital players — too often this season, two of the four have played well. But Mizzou needs three or all four to compete on a nightly basis in the SEC. The last three games, they’ve gotten it, and the results have improved significantly.

  • vs. Arkansas: 17 points and four rebounds from Barnett, 15 points and 8 rebounds from Puryear, 16 and three rebounds from Walton, seven points and six assists from Phillips.
  • at Texas A&M: 23 points and seven rebounds from Barnett, nine points, six rebounds, and seven assists from Phillips, 15 points and eight rebounds from Puryear, 16 points and three rebounds from Walton.
  • vs. Vanderbilt: 23 points and nine rebounds from Barnett, 13 points and eight rebounds from Puryear, 12 points, six rebounds, and two assists from Phillips.

With those four playing mostly well, Mizzou has a chance on most nights. Winning on the road will still be difficult, but the Tigers will be a tough out at home, and that could be enough to get them another win or two.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Still...

Let’s at least attempt to root ourselves in reality of the bigger picture.

The Tigers are still just 7-17 with six games remaining, and three of the games are on the road, where Mizzou hasn’t won in over three years. True, two of the home games are winnable (Alabama, Texas A&M), but the third game is against Kentucky. The Wildcats have struggled of late, but they’re still a top-10 team, and they’re still winning lots of games.

The road games are Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn. UT is a bubble NCAA team that will be in no mood to drop an NCAA-hopes-cancelling game to Mizzou, the Tigers haven’t beaten Ole Miss under Kim Anderson, and Auburn is really tough at home.

If the Tigers continue to play as they have, they’re likely to pick up one or possibly two more games. That will still put them shy of 10 wins. This has still been the worst three-year stretch in school history. And the reality is that we are still almost certain to be looking for a new coach at the end of the season.

Still, what we should be focusing on is the simple hope that Kim Anderson and staff can finish out strong. There could be some enjoyment at the end instead of one dismal dirge toward a final bitter end. The Tigers are going down swinging and might take a couple more teams down with them.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports