This is a bearcat. It is not the most intimidating creature one could choose for a mascot.
The Missouri Tigers
open their own NCAA Tournament
run tonight against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats
. It's been a long and somewhat disappointing road for the Tigers this year, as they've watched a season which began with nothing but promise turn into a bit of a slog. They finished up with a 23-10 record, which isn't terrible, and pulled an 11 seed for the tourney.
Cincinnati, out of the Big East conference, compiled a 25-8 record, lost in a blowout to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, and come in to tonight's game as a sixth seed.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mizzou is actually a slight favorite to win by several outlets, though generally only by about a one-point spread. So, it's a tossup. And that's why I'm here to tell you all about the game tonight and why Missouri will beat those wily Bearcats. Or maybe why they won't.
The Three Reasons the Tigers Will Win
1. Cincy Can't Score
Cincinnati really isn't a very good scoring team. Like, at all. There's no one on the Cincy squad who really scares you with the ball in his hands. The Bearcats know it, too, and they play a style that accounts for that. This is a slow offense, one which holds the ball, and holds the ball, and then holds the ball some more. They run down the shot clock on virtually every possession before even attempting a shot.
When push comes to shove, the Bearcats don't have one go-to player they can give the ball to and just let him get a basket. That isn't a fatal flaw, by any means, but it does mean that in crunch time they have to continue running their system (which is, by design, a slow-developing one), rather than being able to let their top guy take over and seal the deal. If the game is close and comes down to the end I think Missouri can beat the Cincinnati offense in crunch time.
2. Mizzou Can Force the Pace
The Missouri offense is somewhat famous for their frenetic pace and full-court press antics. If they can speed up Cincinnati and force them into leaving their comfort zone and pace, the Tigers should gain a huge advantage. The more they can press the Bearcats and move the game uptempo the better their chances become.
The flipside to this, of course, is that the Tigers have to actually play that '40 minutes of hell' we hear so much about. Mike Anderson's squad hasn't consistently played that full game often this year. Rather than 40 minutes of hell it's usually ten minutes of hell followed by ten minutes of hellish play. Commitment to playing airtight defense is the number one thing Anderson has to get his players to buy into.
3. Tigers Are Way More Dangerous than Bearcats
The bearcat is a small mammal native to Southeast Asia, more properly known as the binturong. It ranges from two to three feet long, has a fully prehensile tail it uses in climbing trees. Its diet consists mostly of fruit and leaves from the local fauna. It has been known to occasionally eat other animals, mostly small rodents and birds. Picture like a beaver or sea otter, only up in a tree instead of in a river.
A tiger is, well, a tiger. They're giant killing machines, capable of growing up to 660 pounds, with five-inch canines and razor-sharp claws. Tigers are apex predators, top of the food chain. They eat, well, pretty much anything they can get their hands on. Like villagers and stuff.
Bottom line, a tiger is going to kill and eat a tree badger every single time. (This is how I fill out my tournament brackets, by the way. It is wildly unsuccessful.)
The Three Reasons The Tigers Will Lose
1. The Tigers Can't Always Score, Either
One of the major downfalls of the Missouri Tigers this season has been their offensive inconsistency. Playing at such a high pace gives the Tigers plenty of possessions, but they often struggle to convert those opportunities. Coming into the season Kim English was expected to be the Tigers' best pure scorer, but he's proven only to be their most bipolar player. His shooting touch simply hasn't been there all that often in 2010-2011, leaving Mizzou without a legitimate shooter.
There have been runs of good offensive play for the Tigers, of course, but bottom line for the season, they simply aren't a consistent threat to put points on the board commensurate with their style of play.
2. Cincy Doesn't Turn the Ball Over
Just like a good ball-control offense in football, Cincinnati will slow-play you on offense without allowing any extra bites of the apple. This is the other side of the pace coin; the Tigers may be able to speed the Bearcats up and take them out of their game, but they may also just wear themselves out trying.
Cincinnati ranked among the best in all of college basketball this year at holding on to the ball, which doesn't bode well for Mizzou's chances. A big part of Missouri's full-court aggression on defense is trying to generate turnovers, putting points on the board in quick transition after taking the ball away. If the Tigers can't force the Bearcats to cough up the ball more often than they have the rest of the season it could be a very bumpy ride.
3. The Rebound Battle Isn't Close
Cincinnati is one of the best rebounding teams in all of college basketball. Missouri is flat-out terrible on the boards. It's one of those really confusing things about this Tiger team, as well, as rebounding is as much about want-to as it is anything else. Mike Anderson's teams usually excel in want-to. Not this one, though.
Both of these teams try to wear their opponents down with their physical identities. Missouri tries to tire their opponents out with their frenetic pace and fitness level, while Cincinnati tries to just beat you up, physically dominating opponents until they capitulate. Nowhere is that style of play going to be more apparent than in the paint, on the boards. Between their outstanding ability to control the ball and their propensity for grabbing rebounds, the Bearcats may not give Mizzou enough opportunities to beat them. If they can dominate in the paint the way they usually do Mike Anderson's team is going to have a tough, tough time speeding the game up enough to win.
I really like this matchup. You've got diametrically opposed styles of play, which always makes for a fascinating game, as well as two teams who should both be playing with some sort of chip on their respective shoulders. Mizzou should feel disrespected by their eleventh seed, and Cincy should be embarrassed and motivated by the stomping they took the last time they were on the court.
In the end, as much as I want to pick the Tigers, I just can't do it. Maybe I'm just gun-shy because they've disappointed me so many times already this season, but I have to go with Cincinnati. I think the Bearcats will avoid turning the ball over and they'll pull down enough rebounds to simply keep the ball out of Mizzou's hands. A low-scoring, somewhat ugly affair, I say Cincy wins it 62-53.