“Reconcile by winning.” That was the phrase uttered by Mizzou senior Kim English ear..."/> “Reconcile by winning.” That was the phrase uttered by Mizzou senior Kim English ear..."/>



“Reconcile by winning.” That was the phrase uttered by Mizzou senior Kim English early last year when asked how the Tigers would move on after former coach Mike Anderson left Columbia to return home to Fayetteville and coach the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 2011-2012 Missouri Tigers did exactly what English said they would do – they won. They won a lot. On April 4th, 2011, shortly after being turned down by Purdue coach Matt Painter, Missouri hired Miami coach Frank Haith to replace Anderson and his “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.”

Frank who?

That is what many Tiger fans were wondering when the announcement was made that Haith was the new head man in Columbia. Some of the criticism was warranted as Haith didn’t exactly have the greatest resume out there. He only went 129-101 and 43-69 in the ACC from 2004 to 2011 at Miami, including only one NCAA Tournament appearance and win (07-08). It was definitely a questionable hire at the time, but the outrage from Tiger fans and heat from the media made it seem like the worst hire of all time. I was definitely skeptical of the hire and a bit disappointed, but let’s face it; Miami is not exactly a glamour job in hoops. Haith did not have near the support from the administration or the fans at Miami like he does at Missouri. In fact, Haith led the Hurricanes to 6 of its 10 best seasons since the basketball program was resurrected in 1985. Still, Haith obviously had plenty to prove in Columbia to win over Tiger Nation. Luckily for him, he had a hungry, senior-laden group coming back ready to make up for losing 8 of their last 14 games, including 5 of 6 down the stretch and one and done in the NCAA Tournament their last year under Anderson.

Several months after the hire, Frank Haith had more criticism to face as accusations of NCAA violations involving a former donor at Miami surfaced. Haith claimed and continues to claim he is innocent and was not aware of any wrong doing, but the investigation is still on going. Only a few months before the season however, this was another headache and distraction for Haith and the program. But Haith kept moving forward, and a month later he invited a few Navy SEALS to Columbia and put his team through two days of team and chemistry building exercises. But not too long after building that trust and chemistry, Haith and the team suffered another setback, this time potentially devastating as leading scorer and arguably the best player on the team, senior Laurence Bowers, tore his left ACL in a pick-up game and would miss the entire season. How in the world could a team already short on big men and players in general recover from this kind of blow?

With only two scholarship players on the roster taller than 6’6 (Ricardo Ratliffe, 6’8, Steve Moore, 6’9), 6’6 guard Kim English was asked to take over the 4 spot and continuously defend bigger players in the post every single game. Mizzou went to a 4-guard lineup, and instead of the lack of height and muscle down low being a negative, it turned out to be a positive for this team the majority of the season. While English had to guard bigger and taller players, those bigger and taller players had to defend his quickness and perimeter play on the other end.

Mizzou played with a 7 man rotation for most of the season, especially when redshirt freshman forward Kadeem Green decided to leave the team to transfer to a school closer to home. Green’s departure left Mizzou with only 7 scholarship players on the team: Senior guards Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Matt Pressey, senior forwards Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore, junior guard Mike Dixon and sophomore sensation PG. Phil Pressey.

The 4 guard and one big man lineup of Pressey, Denmon, Dixon, English and Ratliffe turned out to be an incredibly efficient scoring machine. Mizzou finished the season #1 in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom and were one of the most unselfish, quickest, explosive and fearless teams in the country. This team played the kind of basketball that people love to see and the way it should be played, there was no team in the nation more fun to watch than this group. While it was not the fastest 40 minutes in basketball anymore like it was under Anderson where the team pressed constantly and ran up and down the floor all game, it was still the same players and the Tigers were still one of the fastest and explosive teams in transition and their speed and quickness overwhelmed teams in the half court.

Under Mike Anderson, the Tigers rarely ran any set plays and were free to do whatever they wanted offensively. Under Haith, this team had structure. And it showed immediately. Mizzou ran a set play, pick and roll offense and spaced the floor beautifully. They had wonderful ball movement and used precise cutting and ball screens to take advantage of their quickness, specifically from “Flip” Pressey, whose blow by ability left teams in a bind on what to do defensively. They could either go after Flip, which left the sharp shooting snipers of English, Denmon and Dixon open to do damage on the perimeter or they could let him fly to the basket and dish it off to Ratliffe for an easy layup. But it wasn’t just Flip that took advantage of his quickness as Dixon, Denmon, English and older brother Matt also attacked the basket and made teams pay all year long. This led to many free throw attempts, and with this team, it led to a lot of free throws made. Because Mizzou was so good at the line, this made it increasingly difficult to come back against the Tigers late in games.

This team was an offensive juggernaut and their unselfishness and chemistry was a big reason why. Instead of a good shot, this team made the extra pass for a great shot. Mizzou led the nation in points per possession with 1.21, .4 points higher than the next 3 teams. Throughout the regular season and Big 12 Tournament, Mizzou led the Big 12 in multiple offensive categories including PPG% (80.4), FG% (50.4%), 3PT% (39.8%), FT% (76.6%), APG (16.2), A/T ratio (1.58) and TPG (10.2). They were ranked 6th, 1st, 8th, 8th, 11th, 1st and 5th nationally in those categories respectively.

Kim English probably had the biggest turnaround under Haith from last season. Kimmie’s confidence was back and he shot a career best 45.9% from beyond the arc, up from 36.6% the previous year. English shot 52.1% from the field for the season, again up from 36.6% from the previous year. He averaged 14.5 PPG and 4.2 RPG and caused mismatch problems for teams all year. Kimmie was the ultimate team guy and leader on this team and his play was just as good. He also took the most charges on the team and did a terrific job defensively for the majority of the year against much bigger and taller players in the post. Marcus Denmon was the Tiger’s go to guy and leading scorer for the 2nd year in a row. Denmon averaged 17.7 PPG, 5 RPG and 2.1 APG. His shooting percentages were actually down from last year surprisingly, but he still shot 46% from the field & 40.7% from downtown. The one shooting percentage that did go drastically up was his FT%. Denmon shot a team best 89.6% from the charity stripe, up from 75.8% in 2010-2011. Marcus was Mr.Clutch, as all year long he came through down the stretch and in the final minutes of games. When the Tigers needed a basket, Denmon was the guy to go to. Marcus earned AP 2nd team All-Americans honors and finished his college career as one of the best collegiate players to ever come out of Kansas City. Ricardo Ratliffe might have been the most important player on the team this season. With only the defensive minded Steve Moore as the only other big man on the team, Ratliffe was the only offensive threat down low. When he came out of the game due to foul trouble or for rest, Missouri’s half-court offense suffered. Cardo improved his game over the off season and it showed. Ratliffe had one of the quickest releases in the post of anyone in college basketball and excelled off the pick and roll with Flip Pressey. He shot an incredible 69.3% from the field this season, and flirted with breaking Oregon St.’s Steve Johnson’s record 74.6% FG% through half the season. Ratliffe averaged 13.9 PPG and 7.5 RPG and was just incredibly efficient all year. Mike Dixon, the Big 12’s 6th man of the year, had a dynamite year for the Tigers and provided a spark off the bench every time he came in the game. Even though Dixon came off the bench, he was basically a starter. He averaged 26.7 MPG, higher than starter Matt Pressey’s 24.9 MPG, and higher than last year’s 22.3 MPG when Dixon was a starter. Dixon’s quickness and ability to finish at the rim was huge for the Tigers and when he, Flip Pressey, English and Denmon were all on the floor at the same time, teams had to pick their poison on who to focus on. Dixon averaged 13.5 PPG and 3.3 APG, and he shot a career best 48.7% from the field and 36.8% from 3. Impressive again was his FT% at 87.9%, as he and Denmon were the two guys nobody wanted to send to the line. I said Ratliffe might have been the most important player on the team this season, but that honor could also easily go to sophomore PG. Phil Pressey. Flip was the commander of the offense and when he was not on the floor, Mizzou’s offense suffered a bit similar to when Ratliffe was on the bench. Flip’s amazing quickness, passing ability and floor vision made the offense go and set up teammates for high quality shots in rhythm. Pressey averaged 10.3 PPG, 6.4 APG, 2.1 SPG and 3.3 RPG and he shot a career best 42.8% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc. Flip shattered the school record of 179 assists in a single season held previously by Anthony Peeler, with a whopping 223 assists on the year. The Missouri floor general frequently amazed Tiger fans with his no look and behind the back passes and his quick hands and speed resulted in many steals that led to points in transition, and there were not many teams better or quicker in transition than the Tigers. Let’s not forget Flip’s older brother Matt Pressey and fan favorite “Steeeeeeve”Moore. Pressey only averaged 6.2 PPG but he was arguably the Tigers’ best perimeter defender and gave solid minutes for a team with not a lot of depth. Moore improved over the offseason and became a pretty darn good defender down low. He finished 2nd in Missouri history in blocked shots with 105 and averaged 1.2 BPG this season along with 3 RPG. Moore’s improvement was very important for this team, specifically when Ratliffe was in foul trouble. Shortly after the season started and before these guys could prove all the doubters wrong, the University of Missouri officially announced their move from the Big 12 to the SEC. This would be the Tigers final season in the Big 12, where they were picked to finish 4th by Big 12 coaches before the season ending injury to Bowers. Because of departures by former Big 12 members Nebraska and Colorado, the league was left with 10 members, which resulted in a grueling 18 game round robin Big 12 schedule ahead.

Before beginning their final Big 12 conference schedule, the 25th ranked Tigers started off non-conference play with easy victories over SEMO, Mercer and Niagara before heading to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO for the CBE Classic. This is where the 2011-2012 Missouri Tigers really started to turn heads as they obliviated both Notre Dame and California by 29 and 39 points respectively. This caught the attention of not only Tiger fans but fans and media across the country. Mizzou’s next test was 3 games later against Villanova at Madison Square Garden in New York where the Tigers impressed again with a 10 point victory. Missouri wiped out 3 more over matched schools before heading to St.Louis for the annual Bragging Rights game against Illinois and now Kansas St. coach Bruce Weber. The Illini kept it close but Mizzou pulled it off again for their 3rd straight win in the Bragging Rights series. The Tigers’ final non-conference game before Big 12 play was also their first true road game against Old Dominion where the Monarchs kept it close to the end, but a Marcus Denmon trey with a minute to go gave the Tigers the lead for good.

The Tigers were 13-0 and ranked 7th in the nation heading into their final season in the Big 12. Nobody saw that coming, and absolutely no one thought they would witness what was about to come.

Big 12 play started off with a bang as Mizzou annihilated the Oklahoma Sooners by 38 in Mizzou Arena. Four days later in Manhattan, KS however was a different story. Mizzou was handed their first loss of the season by the Wildcats 75-59 in what would be Mizzou’s lowest scoring output all year and their biggest loss point wise. This loss saw some people jump off the Tiger bandwagon as Kansas St’s height and length exposed some of Missouri’s flaws that might haunt them against other teams with similar size, length and rebounding ability.

Mizzou had other plans however, and proved that the K-State loss was just one bad game and a not so good matchup as the Tigers reeled off 4 wins in a row over Iowa St in Ames, Texas and Texas A&M at home and a huge statement win in Waco over the then 3rd ranked, one loss Baylor Bears who seemed like another terrible matchup for the Tigers before the game. After such an emotional, tough win on the road, Mizzou stumbled a few days later in Stillwater in easily their worst loss of the regular season against the struggling Cowboys of Oklahoma St. The Tigers controlled the majority of the game before 5-star freshman Le’Bryan Nash went crazy with 13 pts & 3 treys in the final 4 minutes to give then #2 Mizzou only their 2nd loss of the season. It truly was a fluke loss, but it happens.

The Tigers moved on quickly by beating Texas Tech and going on the road to Austin to squeak out a tough one point victory against the Longhorns before one of the biggest regular season games in Missouri basketball history and arguably the biggest game ever in Columbia. The hated rival 8th ranked Kansas Jayhawks were coming to town, along with ESPN’s College Gameday and a shot at 1st place in the Big 12 at the time. And oh yeah, it was also the final game between the two rivals in Columbia for the foreseeable future and possibly ever. In front of an insane crowd and intense atmosphere, Mizzou and KU gave us one of the best games in the 267 game history of the series. And with the Tigers down 8 with a little over 2 minutes to play, senior guard Marcus Denmon became a Mizzou legend by scoring 9 straight points and the go ahead 3-pointer with 56 seconds to go as Mizzou pulled away for an incredible 74-71 win. It was one of the best wins in Missouri history and a game no Tiger fan will forget.

Columbia was going crazy for their Tigers after the monster victory and Mizzou kept winning, reeling off 4 more victories in a row at Oklahoma, #6 Baylor and Oklahoma St at home by double digits and at Texas A&M by 9. Missouri was up to #3 in the country again and flying high before a stunning, rare loss at home against the only team to really beat the Tigers all season, the Kansas St Wildcats. K-State proved to be just a horrible matchup for Mizzou this season and both games saw K-State shoot way above their average and Mizzou shoot way under theirs. It was a big hit to Mizzou’s Big 12 regular season title chances, but they could make up for that and have a share of the Big 12 title if they could beat their hated rival once again in Lawrence in possibly the final battle in Allen Fieldhouse.

Looking for their first win in Lawrence since 1999, Mizzou was ready to play from the get go. I didn’t think the first game in Columbia could be topped, but it did. Mizzou played arguably its best basketball of the season for the first 25 minutes as they built a stunning 19 point lead in the toughest place to play in college basketball where the Jayhawks had only one loss in their last 80 games. Mizzou was nearly flawless offensively. They had 58 points in the first 24 minutes against a team allowing only 57 points total per game since their first loss of the season against Iowa St weeks before.

But then the comeback happened. You just knew it was going to happen, you knew Kansas would make a run in their building before it was all said and done, and they did. Kansas gradually erased the 19 point lead and held Mizzou without a FG for 7 minutes. Kansas’ star forward Thomas Robinson tied the game with 16 seconds to go in regulation and then blocked Flip Pressey’s layup attempt to force OT. Once again, Marcus Denmon was his usual clutch self as he had 8 points and 2 treys in the extra session, including a go ahead 3 with 39 seconds left and a go ahead jumper with 12 seconds to go before Tyshawn Taylor hit 2 FTs to go up 1 with 8 seconds to go. Mizzou never got a final shot off. It was arguably the greatest game in the history of the Border War, but the end result was not what Missouri wanted. They outplayed Kansas for the majority of the game, and even though Kansas got some favorable calls, or non-calls, at the end of regulation and overtime, Mizzou had many chances to put it away.

With two games remaining in their last regular season in the Big 12, Mizzou had to somehow bounce back from a 2 game losing streak and a very emotional and draining OT loss to its rival. Next up was an improved Iowa St squad in the final game of the season at Mizzou Arena. It was Senior night and there was no way this group of seniors would go out with a loss in their final game in Mizzou Arena. The Cyclones gave them a battle, but Missouri pulled away in the final 10 minutes and became the only team to beat Iowa St. twice during Big 12 play. The senior class of Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore (Bowers with 77 of those wins, but not this season obviously) became the winningest senior class in Missouri history earlier in the season and continued to add on 4 days later in Lubbock, as the Tigers hit a season best 16 3 pointers to give them their school best 27th regular season win and 14th conference win of the season in their final game ever in Big 12 play. It was a magical regular season, but these guys weren’t done yet.

It was fitting that Missouri’s final Big 12 Tournament would be in Kansas City. The Tigers headed to the City of Fountains determined to reel off 3 in a row and leave the Big 12 on top. They did just that, and they did it in record breaking fashion. Mizzou wiped out Oklahoma St by 18 and Texas by 14 to head to the Big 12 Championship game. But it wasn’t Border War III like everyone had hoped for. Instead it was a 3rd matchup against the red hot #12 Baylor Bears who ended the hopes of another MU-KU classic the day before. Mizzou already beat Baylor twice during the regular season, but Baylor was playing its best basketball of the year. It didn’t matter. Big 12 Tournament MVP Kim English hit 5 3 pointers, 5 players had 15 or more points (1st time in MU history) and Mizzou left the Big 12 in fashion with a 90-75 victory. It capped off a dominating tournament performance as Mizzou averaged 86 points per game, beat OSU, Texas and Baylor by 18, 14 and 15 respectively and set a Big 12 Tournament record as they shot 55.4% from the floor. After losing 5 of 6 to end the 2011 season, the departure of Mike Anderson, the spurning by Matt Painter, the outrage of the Haith hire, the Miami scandal and the Bowers injury leaving the team with only 7 scholarship players…The Tigers were 30-4 and Big 12 Tournament Champions. They finished the season ranked 3rd in the final AP & coaches polls, the highest ever in Missouri history. They had 11 wins over the RPI Top 50 and the 2nd most wins in the country away from home. They were also legit Final Four contenders.

The day after cutting down the nets in KC, it was Selection Sunday time and the Tigers were hoping for a #1 seed or at the least a #2 seed in the St. Louis region. Mizzou didn’t exactly get their wish. Instead, they became the first school ever from a Power 6 conference to win 30 games and not get a #1 seed. In fact, they ended up as the lowest #2 seed behind Ohio St, Kansas and Duke and were headed out west in the Phoenix region. Five days later, one of the greatest seasons in Missouri history took a stunning and painful turn for the worse. It ended.

The #15 seed Norfolk St Spartans would be the Tigers’ first opponent in the Round of 64. Who? This was Norfolk St’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and their best season since becoming a Division 1 school in 1997.  Mizzou was coming off an emotional Big 12 Tournament Championship, were 21 point favorites and a trendy pick to make it to their first Final Four in school history. This was Mizzou’s year. This year, there was not to be a Tynus Edney or a fifth down, not with this group, not with everything this team had to deal with the previous 12 months. A #2 seed had not lost to a #15 seed since 2001 when #2 Iowa St. lost to #15 Hampton. There was absolutely no way Mizzou would have any trouble at all with Norfolk St…

The final buzzer sounded and Phil Pressey’s 3 point attempt bounced off the back iron. It was over. Just like that, Mizzou’s magical dream season came to a shocking and numbing end. Mizzou became just the 5th #2 seed ever to lose to a #15 seed (Duke of course later became the 6th), and an amazing and historic season ended in incredibly disappointing and embarrassing fashion. This was arguably the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, and based off point spreads and seeding, it definitely was. Mizzou became the first team in Tournament history to make 10 3 pointers, shoot over 50%, commit less than 10 turnovers…and lose. The Tigers also became the first team since 2006 to make at least 13 3 pointers and shoot over 50% in a tournament game. Yet, they lost. Mizzou didn’t play badly, they played very well offensively, but Norfolk St. played even better. They played the game of their lives. They won the game more than Mizzou lost it.

Norfolk St. had to have everything go their way…and it did. They got every loose ball, every bounce, and even banked in a few three’s. They shot 54% from the field and 52% from 3 (10/19). Their season average was 44% from the field and 31% from 3…It was unbelievable. Honestly though, it was a shockingly bad matchup for Mizzou. Every starter for Norfolk St was at least 6’5, with 3 of them over 6’7. Mizzou’s lack of height ended up hurting them the most against a team from the MEAC.

It was one of the flukiest losses of all-time. And of course it had to happen to Missouri. Of course it had to happen to this group of players and after everything that happened during the off season.

Of course.

The seniors deserved better than this. Kimmie, Marcus, Cardo and Steve deserved to go out with their heads up, not in disbelief. Frank Haith deserved better than this after everything he went through during the off season. And of course, the fans deserved better than this.

Putting things in perspective, this was a great season. One of the best in Missouri history. But the loss to Norfolk St. is the kind of loss that will never go away. Add it to the list Missouri fans.

But I certainly will remember this season as probably the best season I’ve ever experienced from the four teams I passionately root for (Chiefs, Royals, Mizzou FB & BB). Right up there with the 2007 MU football team, 2008-2009 MU basketball team and the 2003 Chiefs. It was just an awesome ride and a shame it had to end that way.

But now we have to move on. Missouri is moving on to a new league and the future looks bright for Mizzou hoops under Frank Haith, who by the way, won the AP National and Big 12 Coach of the Year award. Congrats coach, well deserved. As for next year, replacing 2nd team All-American Marcus Denmon, Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe will be difficult. It will be hard to expect the same amazing chemistry and the most efficient offense in the country again. But Phil Pressey, one of the best PGs in the nation, returns along with fellow guard and All Big 12 Defensive team member Mike Dixon. Laurence Bowers will also be coming back from his torn ACL for his senior season and 3 impact transfers, small forward Earnest Ross and guards Keion Bell and Jabari Brown (eligible 2nd semester, highest rated recruit since Kleiza) will join an impressive first recruiting class for Frank Haith consisting of forwards Negus-Webster Chan and Stefan Jankovic, center Ryan Rosburg and guard Domonique Bull to go along with JUCO transfer forward Tony Criswell. Missouri is also in the running for 5-star forward Devonta Pollard and UConn transfer, center Alex Oriakhi. Both would be huge gets for the program and the team next season as they head to the SEC East.

The 2011-2012 Missouri Tigers. A season to remember and an ending to forget. Sounds good and all, but as I mentioned already, it will be impossible to forget the ending. It’s not impossible however to remember and appreciate how great of a season this truly was. Thanks for the memories Kimmie, Marcus, Cardo, Matt , Sutton and Big Steve! You will be missed!

On to the SEC…