Missouri enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the coldest teams, falling in four of its last five games while leaving at least one player questioning the Tigers' resolve.
An 86-71 loss against Texas A&M in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament not only disgusted the partisan Kansas City crowd as it left the arena early, but prompted junior guard Kim English to offer a harsh assessment.
"I just didn't expect us to go out like this," English said. "For the first time in however many games, I thought we quit. We quit. And I say 'we' because I'm on the team. I don't think I did, but we ... we quit. I'm a part of that."
The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed and drew Cincinnati (25-8), which was rocked 89-51 by Notre Dame in the most lopsided quarterfinal game in the history of the Big East tournament. Missouri and Cincy were grouped in the West Regional and play on March 17 in Washington D.C.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson, of course, disagreed with English, preferring to say his team simply "came up short." Nonetheless, the Tigers (23-10) enter the NCAA Tournament with some issues to solve and one of them now could be unity following English's critique.
"I don't know what Kim meant, but I don't feel that anyone out there quit," said junior guard Marcus Denmon. "Everyone was giving it their all until the clock says zero-zero."
Unfortunately for Missouri, giving everything has not equated into victories down the stretch. The Tigers thrive on forcing turnovers with an active defense that often pressure over the entire court, then turns those miscues into transition baskets.
In defeat, however, Missouri often is unable to generate as many easy breakouts. That leaves the Tigers to score in their half-court offense, where patience sometimes runs thin and shot selection is poor. In addition, a sleek front line built to run the floor often gives up too many rebounds and too many easy baskets underneath.
On the plus side, the system Anderson learned under Nolan Richardson and has implemented over five years at Missouri, is unusual and can be difficult to prepare for, and adjust to, in the NCAA Tournament. But the Tigers need everyone on the same page to get everything they can out of their frenzied style.
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