The No. 11 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament are the Missouri Tigers, who will face the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round. Given their "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" style of play, the novelty of Mike Anderson's Missouri teams will always make for danger on your NCAA Tournament bracket. But stumbles down the stretch in the regular season leave Mizzou still trying to put all the pieces together before it starts dancing. Two years removed from an Elite Eight appearance, Missouri has shown all of the requisite pieces of a solid tournament team throughout the season, but failed to ever put it all together in one single performance, much less a stretch of games.
Jump shots, rebounds, free throws and perimeter defense have all come and gone without notice during the 2010-11 season. Mizzou remains relatively talented and immensely dangerous, but the Tigers are fighting their own demons as much as they are fighting their opponents these days.
Record: 22-10, 9-9 in the Big 12
Key wins: Dec. 8 vs. Vanderbilt: Mizzou was two games removed from surrendering a last-minute lead in a loss to Georgetown and one game removed from nearly blowing a 22-point lead against Oregon. Despite a bevy of mistakes, Missouri came away with an overtime win against a solid Vandy team. ... Dec. 22 vs. Illinois (in St. Louis): The win was big not only because it was Mizzou's second straight Braggin' Rights win. Mizzou slogged through 30 minutes of playing a completely foreign brand of basketball before seizing control late. ... Jan. 17 vs. Kansas State: What was supposed to be a marquee Big 12 game was instead further proof of Kansas State's supposed implosion. Mizzou's ball control index (assists plus steals divided by turnovers) was 2.25 for the game, indicative of a prototypical Mizzou performance at home.
Key losses: Nov. 30 vs. Georgetown (in Kansas City): It was the most exciting non-conference game you probably don't remember. Mizzou fought back from a 23-point deficit, only to have Chris Wright drain a late three in regulation on a broken play to force overtime. ... March 1 at Nebraska: Egregious in the fanbase's eyes not because of the opponent or the environment, but because of the sheer listlessness on display. Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly said Mizzou looked "near-leaderless" in Lincoln.
Players to watch: If the stretch run remains the barometer, the only players you need to watch are Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers. As other Mizzou players watched their games disappear in late February in early March, Denmon cemented his place as a first-team All-Big 12 performer. Bowers, on the other hand, almost silently turned himself into Missouri's most efficient player in all facets of the game. His ascension to new levels just happened to coincide with the struggles of fellow forward Ricardo Ratliffe. Mizzou also features three talented but erratic guards in junior Kim English, sophomore Michael Dixon and freshman Phil Pressey, all of whom could either steal headlines or fade into the background without much surprise.
Missouri profile by Ross Taylor of Rock M Nation and SB Nation Kansas City.