30 January 2012

Are the Missouri Tigers a National Title Contender?

Marcus Denmon and the Missouri Tigers have been one of the most pleasant surprises of this college basketball season. They sit right now at 19-2 and are ranked number four in the country, peaking at number two last week before falling to Oklahoma State in Stillwater. And all this in Frank Haith's first season in Columbia.

They have risen to the top of college basketball this season but are they a national championship contender come March Madness?

You cannot watch this Tigers team and be without the thought that this is a damn small team. Haith runs the 303rd tallest team in the country and starts a four guard line-up with the only big man, Ricardo Ratliffe, standing at 6'8". But this is a club that plays really fast on offense that complements their speed with ball control and accurate shooting from distance. Sophomore Phil Pressey has been tremendous in setting up Denmon, who may be a player-of-the-year contender, Kim English and Matt Pressey with plenty of scoring opportunities.

And their big man Ratliffe has been a big part why this club has been so good. He has been able to stay out of foul trouble and has been ridiculous efficent on the season, making an absurd 75% of his shots. Of course, the overwhelming majority of his shots come from around the charge circle but he knows where his game is and it also shows how good the guards are at attacking the basket, setting him up with open looks.

Now back to the question at hand, are the Tigers a title contender? You always have concerns when a team is not very big because they can get manhandled inside, like they did against Kansas State a few weeks ago. Plus a team that relies a lot of perimeter shooting could be vulnerable if they go cold, while they could just as well go on a hot run and get to New Orleans. But I like this Missouri club, having watched them a handful of times, and why can't be a contender to cut down some nets?

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