Eight Reasons Mizzou Will Make the Elite Eight

Just before the Madness began last week, I laid out a lengthy list of reasons why Missouri would fail in the first few rounds of the tournament, pointing out a few of the Tigers' most glaring weaknesses and the dangers of each potential early round match-up.

click to enlarge Just pretend this is a tiger next to eight cowboy hats and a huge number 8, ready to devour John Calipari and his Memphis Tigers.
Just pretend this is a tiger next to eight cowboy hats and a huge number 8, ready to devour John Calipari and his Memphis Tigers.
Now Mizzou has reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002 and they're one very difficult win away from proving my original prediction wrong. But like Kim English coming off the bench to swish a pair of game-winning free throws, I'm not one to easily admit defeat. 

I'm hedging my bets and laying out eight reasons Mizzou could pull the upset of the tournament, defeating that other team of Tigers and advancing to the Elite 8 to face UConn or Purdue.

1. Mike Anderson has John Calipari's number.
Memphis has a 61-game winning streak against Conference USA opponents. Their last loss? To an Anderson-coached UAB team in 2006. Granted, Calipari has a 5-2 overall record against Anderson, but Memphis has always had more talent in its program and the 2006 squad had half a dozen future NBA players on the roster. The fact that Anderson could even beat Memphis once shows he has the wits that are going to be necessary in order to break Memphis current 27-game winning streak.

2. Memphis hasn't played a team as good as Mizzou in months.
Winning 27 D-I college basketball games in a row is impressive no matter what conference a team plays in but the fact remains: Memphis has only beat two quality opponents, Gonzaga and Xavier Tennessee. When the team faced quality, power-conference opponents early in the season, Memphis came up short every time.

3. Leo Lyons is on fire.
Several Tigers have continued the stellar play that steered them to the Big 12 tournament title, but Lyons in particular has impressed me thus far. Out-sized by Cornell's seven-foot center, he used his agility to create space and bank in a few tough looks, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. MU will need that and more from their post star in order to beat Memphis. Their best bet is Lyons attacking the Memphis bigs Dozier and Taggart and getting to the free-throw line -- resulting in points for Mizzou and foul trouble for Memphis. How likely is that scenario? During the regular season, Lyons led the nation in fouls drawn, with 8.2 per 40 minutes of play, numbers that narrowly edge out All-Americans Tyler Hansborough and Blake Griffin.

4. Mizzou might have the defensive advantage.
Memphis led the nation in defensive efficiency this season, according to the calculations of stat guru Ken Pomeroy, but Mizzou wasn't far behind, finishing twelfth in that category. Both teams rely on a fast pace and aggressiveness to create turnovers. But MU might have the edge in this game for one simple reason: Tyreke Evans, Memphis' otherwise outstanding freshman point guard, has turned the ball over 119 times this season. How his ball handling holds up against 40 Minutes of Hell will likely be the biggest factor in this game.

5. DeMarre Carroll will be the best player on the court.
Carroll might not be as heralded as Evans, a third team All-American who averaged sixteen points and five rebounds per game, but he's a senior playing what might be his final game. Something tells me the junkyard dog won't go down without a fight.

6. Kim English is so clutch.
And he's peaking at the perfect point in the season. If he can get hot against Memphis like he did in the first half against Marquette, this one should be a cinch.

7. Mizzou will win one for the gipper.
Speculation abounds that with coaching offers on the table from Alabama and Georgia, this might be Mike Anderson's final season at Mizzou. While the coach has refused to comment on the rumors (why not just deny them completely?), they're still hanging around the locker room. Even beyond the family ties to their coach, the Tigers are no doubt loyal to their leader and the fact that this might be the last time he leads them into battle might provide that extra little motivation needed for an upset victory.

8. Memphis' "Refuse to Lose" campaign is cursed.
Memphis has adopted the slogan of "Refuse to Lose" as the season (and the winning streak) has stretched on. They even plastered the phrase on the team bus. They should know this slogan rightfully belongs to the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who came back from a thirteen-game deficit to win the AL West, defeated the Yankees in the division series, then lost to Cleveland in the ALCS. Karmic implications of stealing the phrase aside, consider this Memphis' version of the ALCS with Mizzou playing the Indians' role of spoiler.
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