From the time Kim Anderson was given his walking papers up to today, through all of the turmoil, excitement, and frustration, we are now looking at a team depleted of guards, missing a key senior leader and starter, and featuring a fresh but rusty first round NBA draft pick (and possibly two). Where does that leave us? The only part of that answer we know for sure is we're left with a #8 seed in the West bracket of the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers and their shaky lineup of talented youth will take on Florida State, a team with many similarities to our beloved Tigers. The Seminoles scratched out a 20 win season filled with impressive wins and embarrassing defeats. They're a team with impressive big men who are stingy defenders near the rim. They're a bubble-type team who was shaky down the stretch. All qualities that Mizzou fans should be quite familiar with.
The most important question about this team though is, how do they match up against Mizzou on Friday? My answer might surprise you. I believe the Tigers match up surprisingly well against their round one opponent.
Mizzou's biggest weakness right now is lack of reliable guard play, but an odd counter to this is that the Tigers can be a particularly deadly threat from outside. The reason for this has been the caliber of outside shooting forwards that Mizzou throws at opponents. This will be somewhat mitigated by the (hopefully) temporary loss of Barnett, but the tall and talented Porters are both deadly threats from outside on any given night, and under normal circumstances, Kassius Robertson is as good a sharp shooter as anyone in the nation (Georgia game aside).
Florida State forces its opponents to take those outside shots by ferociously defending the rim. Junior center Christ Koumadje goes 7'4"! That imposing force down low has earned him the nickname "Christ, he's big! Freshman center Ike Obiagu tags in at 7'0" meaning Florida State nearly always has a seven-footer down low waiting to swat away ill-advised and out-of-control Geist dashes to the rim.
The big wild card in this whole mess has less to do with Florida State and more to do with Mizzou. I'm talking of course about Michael Porter Jr. We saw his return in the SEC Tournament but the version we saw was apprehensive and tight. He put in 12 points but took and missed too many shots. The assumption is that he will continue to improve but how much rust can he knock off after just one game? It's anybody's guess, but his return should do wonders to salve otherwise fatal losses of Van Leer and Barnett so late in the season.
My prediction is that Tiger fans will witness another in a long line of competitive yet frustrating games, full of streaks of brilliance punctuated by inexplicable shooting droughts. Ultimately, I think the Tigers' talent and accumen from outside prevails and Mizzou wins an ugly one 74-68. MPJ leading the Tigers to the second round of the NCAAs should be enough to leave every tiger fan feeling satisfied when reading this season's Wikipedia page. Should the team add more to the story...well that's all just gravy, kids.