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From frantic to fierce, Missouri has been November eye-opener

Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor


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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Transitions aren't supposed to be this seamless, this fast.

Yet, here Missouri sits, one day after completing a demolition tour through the CBE Classic, looking far more like a cohesive unit than the work in progress many expected as the byproduct of a new coach and a new system.

Missouri's 92-53 waxing of Pac-12 favorite California was as dominant as the score indicates, and perhaps even more impressive if you watched the Tigers execute a swarming half-court defense with the same zeal and pressure that trademarked former head coach Mike Anderson's 94-feet, 40-minutes-of-hell style.

The ball pressure, the overplay, the contested shots still felt like a raging inferno for Jorge Gutierrez and the Golden Bears, who shot just under 30 percent from the floor and committed 21 turnovers. Gutierrez, known to irritate opposing defenders with his constant off-ball movement, was the one bearing the frustration, scoring just 11 points and fouling out halfway through the second half in a clear foul of dissatisfaction.

Haith was handed the keys to a talented group with key veteran cogs Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Matt Pressey and Ricardo Ratliffe returning. He also had the advantage of incorporating the same tenets he implemented at Miami, where he coached players with very similar skills to Denmon, English and Michael Dixon.

Frank Haith
Frank Haith has put his own imprint on his team despite dealing with the loss of standout forward Laurence Bowers.
But, still, no one could have expected this, especially the Big 12 media that pegged Missouri fourth in the preseason conference pecking order. Suffice to say, if these Tigers are the fourth-best team in the Big 12, I severely undersold preseason conference favorites Kansas and Texas A&M, both having looked shaky at best through the first two weeks.

Shaky is not in the Tigers vernacular, not when each player is attacking rather than reacting, sharing rather than selfishly filling the box score. Yes, there are a couple "I's" in Missouri, but the Tigers are looking like a team that no one wants to play now let alone later, when Haith becomes even more familiar with each player's strengths and weaknesses.

"This is the best I've felt in my four years because it's the most selfless team I've played on," English said. "We're buying into the process each day."

That theme continued with Haith's post-game words, lamenting that, "The kids are buying in. As long as our guys understand the focus, there are things we have to work on, we've got a chance."

I'm sold.

This isn't Mike Brey's best Notre Dame team; the Irish dropped a 61-57 decision to Georgia one night after a 29-point loss to Missouri. Nor can anyone be sure the yearly Cal tease will materialize into enough victories, though in what looks like a down year for the Pac-12, it may be the favorite by default.

However, beating two power conference clubs on a neutral floor, on back-to- back days by a combined 78 points is the biggest eye-opener of the season's initial stretch.

And it's not just because of the outcome, or the six players in double figures on Tuesday night or the perimeter defense (6-of-25 three-point shooting against) or the 34 forced turnovers in Kansas City, but rather the promise of the possibilities.

The Tigers and their new coach have only been together in an official capacity for a little over a month, and they are already taking names. That is a testament to a coach no one in Columbia seemed to want, greeting him with stone-cold expressions and little fanfare.

The reception on the short trip home should be more welcoming and well deserved. Haith has put his own imprint on his team despite dealing with the loss of standout forward Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury. He still will fret over the Tigers' lack of interior size, which could be exploited by a team that can keep pace with Missouri's four guards.

Tuesday was not the night for nail biting, but rather celebrating an impressive early-season showing and getting back to work on fine-tuning a transition that to date has gone better than expected.

On The Horizon: From The End of the Bench will finally settle in to its typical Monday virtual slot after the Thanksgiving holiday with thoughts on Maui and other preseason tournaments, as well as a look ahead to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.


Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jared Trexler at jtt128@comcast.net.

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