With the Tiger hoop squad jumping out to one of its best starts in recent history, many Mizzou fans are speculating about the chances of their beloved Tigers reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
With a 13-3 record and early wins over two Pac-10 teams in Cal and USC (the Trojans were ranked at the time), that talk is warranted.
However, many Missouri basketball fans are still being cautious and methodical about investing too much emotion or anticipation into a program that's had more than its fair share of heartbreak in the past decade.
There's no need to drudge up the painful memories of scandals past, but it is important to acknowledge the impact of the Quin Snyder era and how its shadow still looms over some Missourians like the rainy cloud in a Zoloft commercial.
If you don't believe there's still an impact, just look at the home attendance numbers. Do you think that prior to 2004, if the Tigers had started off like they did this year, there would be so few fans attending home games?
Sure, the success of the football team may have distracted some once-loyal basketball fans, but I think it's naïve to think that the not-so-distant past has nothing to do with the present, and it wasn't just incidents that occurred under Snyder's watch, but also numerous off-the-court problems, most recently being Leo Lyons indefinite suspension and arrest.
So, with so much baggage, how can Mike Anderson and his third troupe of Tigers move out of the shadows and back into the forefront of Mizzou fans' minds? Well, they had one heaping platter of opportunity set before them in this year's Braggin' Rights Game. The Tigers hadn't beat the Illini in their last eight attempts coming into this year's contest, now they have haven't beaten the Illini in their last nine attempts.
With a one-loss record and impressive victories over Cal and USC already in the bag, a win over their northeastern neighbors would have resulted in an eruption of love from the once loyal and abundant Mizzou basketball fan base. However, that fantasy didn't come to fruition, and the Tigers were beat handedly.
Now, there may be only two things that can reignite the flame in Mizzou Arena that once warmed the walls of the Hearnes Center, and those are a win over Kansas and trip back to the big dance. With Kansas having one of the youngest teams in all of college basketball this season and 13 non-conference wins already on the tournament resume, both of those goals still seem attainable.
Saturday's disappointing loss to the Cornhuskers and Lyons' indefinite suspension won't help the cause, but Missouri's goals are still in front of them. Beating Kansas would go a long way in Anderson's quest to capture the adoration of Tiger nation, but dropping both games to the Jayhawks would give him six straight losses to the most-hated rival, and no victories in the series.
One could argue that beating Kansas would be a bigger feat for Anderson, but an NCAA Tournament berth would speak volumes about the state of the program. With a 13-2 non-conference record, two quality wins, and two of the teams' three losses coming against solid opponents in Illinois and Xavier, Missouri looks like they might have a real chance to being playing in mid March.
As of right now, there are only two Big 12 teams with as long a tourney drought at the Tigers, and they are Colorado and Nebraska. The Buffs haven't been since 03' and the Cornhuskers since 98'. If the Tigers can score a winning record in conference play, they will have a very good shot at getting into the field of 64. That would give them a regular season record of 22-9. Typically, that kind of resume nets a team from a power conference a bid.
If Anderson can keep his kids out of trouble, get his record above .500 in conference, get the best of Kansas, and get into the tourney, some of the clouds floating over Mizzou Arena may start to move along, making the commute to the building much more enjoyable.