Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
If Missouri is going to be a serious contender by the end of this season, they’re going to need to win several games in the fashion that they did on Wednesday night. Playing with just five available players in the final minutes and with their leading scorer having an off night, the No. 9 Tigers still found a way to pull out a road win over streaking Iowa State in Ames. Mizzou was coming off a 16-point loss in Kansas State’s raucous arena in their last game, so defeating ISU under adverse conditions was huge for this team’s confidence. “We had a tough loss at Kansas State, and when we came back the next day in practice, the whole week we focused on being mentally tough,” said senior Matt Pressey, and that toughness is exactly what carried the Tigers to the 76-69 victory. While tougher challenges lie ahead, Missouri found out on Wednesday that they can win on the road even when things don’t go their way, a great sign going forward.
Everything went right for Missouri during non-conference play, to the point where many pundits thought they were playing better than anyone in the country. The Tigers were dominant in victories over Cal, Notre Dame, and Villanova, and also defeated Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game on way to a 13-0 start. But reality has quickly struck for Mizzou, who, in addition to getting spanked by K-State in its first conference road game, found out that freshman Kadeem Green requested to transfer out of the program. Though not a major contributor, Green was part of Frank Haith’s eight-man rotation as the third big man alongside star forward Ricardo Ratliffe and reserve Steve Moore that could bang inside and grab some boards (he averaged 3.4 rebounds in 10 games). Now, Haith plays just seven guys per night, only two of whom stand taller than 6’8”, so there will be plenty of times when the undersized Tigers have little margin for error against their opponents.