Henry Politz – 23 Sports

Missouri’s loss to Oklahoma was a devastating loss for Tiger fans fans. Before the game, the last time that Mizzou was in the NCAA Tournament was back in 2018, in which the Tigers had a quick exit after losing to FSU in the first round. The following season, that is, the 2018-2019 season, Mizzou went 15-17, lost in the second round of the SEC tournament and did not make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Mizzou was 15-16 before the entire remainder of the season was cancelled. So yes, last night was a tough one for Mizzou fans, but, in the big picture, this year’s Mizzou basketball team certainly made some progress, especially considering that the previous two seasons Mizzou had a losing record and this was the best winning percentage (.615) that Mizzou has had since the 2013-2014 season.

Mizzou began their season in late November 2020, and they got off to a very hot start. The Tigers began the season by beating Oral Roberts, a team that is now bound for the sweet sixteen, by 27 points in their season opener. The Tigers then won versus Oregon, on the road against Wichita State, and then took down Liberty and NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed Illinois at home. All four of these teams that Mizzou defeated at the beginning of the season are quality teams that were in this year’s March Madness.

Mizzou’s first loss didn’t come until Dec. 30 against their SEC opener against Tennessee, but Mizzou bounced back immediately a few days later in the new year on Jan. 2 and took down Arkansas, who is now advancing to the sweet sixteen after defeating a talented Texas Tech team in the second round. Once Mizzou began to play strictly in-conference games, aside from one game against TCU, their early hot streak began to slowly dwindle. 

After defeating Arkansas to start off the new year, the Tigers went 8-7 for the duration of the regular season. What is so head-scratching about the Tigers’ season is that they seemed to play to the level of their competition very frequently. In late January, Mizzou beat Tennessee, a very strong team, then proceeded to lose the next game to Auburn. In early February, the Tigers took down SEC champion Alabama, yet lost by 21 points the very next game against Ole Miss, a team that didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament. In late February, Mizzou lost to Georgia and Ole Miss (again), but then went on to take down the Florida Gators. In the SEC tournament, a first-round win against Georgia was quickly countered by a second-round loss to Arkansas.

Oklahoma ended Mizzou’s season this past Saturday, March 21, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Missouri lost in a similar fashion that they have lost a lot of games this year — second-half struggles. Missouri made a habit throughout the season of competing very well in the first half and then slowly losing their grip after halftime, and that’s exactly what happened against Oklahoma. This game was neck-and-neck the entire first half, as both teams seemed to be very evenly matched. 

The second half rolled around and Mizzou began to slowly fall behind the Sooners. A lack of ability to finish at the rim, poor shooting, and overall just a lack of offensive execution caused Missouri to play from behind for the majority of the second-half. Missouri was still able to keep the game close, but Oklahoma really stepped up their game in crunch time. In the final five minutes of the game, Oklahoma scored on every single offensive possession aside from one possession that came with ten seconds left in the game. Mizzou eventually lost the game 72-68, ending their 2021 season. 

The future of this Missouri basketball team seems to be uncertain, as the Tigers are losing Dru Smith, Mark Smith, and Jeremiah Tilmon, all of whom are starters and key contributors to this team. Drew Buggs and Mitchell Smith are also seniors, and both of them serve important roles coming off the bench. Perhaps next year the nucleus of this Mizzou basketball team will be sophomore forward Kobe Brown and junior guards Xavier Pinson and Javon Pickett, that is, if Pinson and Pickett elect to stay for their senior seasons. Whatever the case may be for the future of this team, this year was one of the most productive seasons that Mizzou has had in the last decade, and that should at least provide this team and the Mizzou fanbase with some optimism.

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