Missouri has a little bit left to prove. If the Tigers don't get it done, frankly, to me, it doesn't blemish one thing about this season. Thirty wins, Big 12 tournament title, Sweet Sixteen. Very, very good. Nothing changes that.
But a great season, one of those truly elite, historic seasons, is going to require the Tigers to take out two of college basketball's better teams away from home.
The first chance comes against Memphis. Honestly, these two teams are virtual mirror images to me. Sure, there are differences, but both have a high level of athleticism, both can put up a lot of points, both win games based on their defense. But the biggest similarity is this: Both come into the Sweet Sixteen feeling like they still have a lot to prove.
"I think that both us and Memphis definitely feel like we have a lot to prove," Zaire Taylor said. "I know they feel like they're a number one seed. People tend to not give them the credit they deserve because they're in Conference USA, but you win thirty games, you win thirty games. Ain't nobody giving you no games, whether you're in Conference USA, the Big East, wherever you're playing. And they won out of conference games too. We've seen them in Puerto Rico and we both lost to Xavier. They're a good team. I know they're going to come with it. Both of us, I think the main thing about this game, is that we both feel like we have something to prove."
Taylor pretty well laid out the disrespect sent Memphis' way. A truly elite team, say the Tigers' detractors, doesn't play in Conference USA. Load of crap, I say. I mean, you play the games in front of you. John Calipari and Tyreke Evans aren't in charge of what league the school affiliates itself with. The Tigers have won 61 consecutive games in their league. Is it a bad league? Sure. But 61 straight wins is 61 straight wins. I'd guess that Memphis could have beaten Colorado, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Nebraska. All won games in the Big 12 this year. In addition, the Tigers beat Gonzaga and Tennessee and took out Maryland in the second round of the tournament. Memphis has done exactly what it is supposed to do: They've won the games on their schedule. You would think any reference to Memphis not being able to handle top competition would have gone out the window with their run to the national title game last year. Guess not.
As far as Missouri's Tigers go, they have to prove to some people they belong here. Yes, three seeds are supposed to make it this far, but these same "experts" are treating the Tigers as a mere afterthought in the Sweet Sixteen.
Look at the rest of the field. It's tough to say there's a surprise team here. If you go back to pre-season expectations, Pitt, Louisville, Carolina, UCONN, Duke, Oklahoma, Memphis, Michigan State and Villanova were all pretty much supposed to be this good. Same with Xavier, Purdue and Gonzaga. Perhaps Kansas, Syracuse and Arizona are small surprises, but when you have one of those names on your jersey, you aren't a surprise to anyone. That leaves Missouri.
The Tigers were picked seventh in their conference at the start of the season. If they win on Thursday, they're one of the top eight teams in the country.
But shouldn't we have gotten over pre-season expectations by now?
In sports, a little disrespect can go a long way. On Thursday night, two sets of Tigers will take the floor with an "us-against-the-world" attitude. One of them is going to keep on proving people wrong right into the Elite Eight.
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