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Archive for Saturday, December 2, 2006

MU basketball worth watching again

December 2, 2006

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— At the end of the night, students lined the court, jockeying with cell phone cameras just to get a chance to click the image of the man who is rapidly becoming the most popular guy in the state.

At the end of the night, with the scoreboard still glowing with the remarkable good news of a nationally televised, 22-point victory over Arkansas, the mad corner of Mizzou Arena where acerbic fans used to hurl vulgar insults on Quin Snyder's head was now the site of a cascade of uncontrollable adoration for the new man in town, Mike Anderson.

"COACH! COACH! COACH! COACH!" they chanted as he high-fived his way through the tunnel toward the Mizzou locker room.

"You're a godsend, coach Anderson!" screamed one fan above the din.

Who knows how good the Tigers will turn out to be by the end of Mike Anderson's inaugural season at the helm. But the most significant question of his early coaching era already has been answered.

The unbeaten Tigers are worth watching again.

Eight games into his first season in Columbia, Anderson's already made the Tigers worth caring about again. The dead zone that once was Mizzou Arena is now a hustling, bustling house of frenzied hoop activity. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail should discourage any true aficionado of basketball the way it's supposed to be played from making their appointed rounds to see Anderson's exciting brand of Run 'N Fun roundball.

The Arkansas Razorbacks were not Stephen F. Austin, Stetson or Coppin State. The previously unbeaten Razorbacks are a big-time program with a fine basketball pedigree. They play in the SEC (the league of the defending NCAA champion Florida Gators). They have a parade of quick and athletic guards, hang-gliding forwards and a quartet of big men who are all taller than the biggest Mizzou post player.

And Mizzou ran 'em off Norm Stewart Court with relative ease.

Missouri 86, Arkansas 64.

This was the sort of measuring stick we needed to consider what sort of true and immediate growth has been made since athletic director Mike Alden sent Snyder into forced exile and replaced him with Anderson, a man with a lengthy proven record of winning.

So all they did was outshoot, outrun, outhustle and outdefend Arkansas all night long.

I saw what I came to see. I saw the entertaining, clever, aggressive defense that is the signature of Anderson-coached teams. It wasn't the full-blown 40 minutes of hell that we'll see in the future. Instead, it was a strategic turn of the defensive screws, applied in sporadic and unsuspecting sneak attacks. Stan Heath's Razorbacks spent the entire night in an uncomfortable maze, committing a startling 24 turnovers while Mizzou created an even more startling 17 steals.

"Seventeen steals is unbelievable," said Heath after the game. "I've never seen that since I've been coaching. That's a huge number."

The house may have been half-empty because of a driving snowstorm, but maybe that was the best thing that could have happened, because it provided Anderson's Tigers with a captive statewide and national television audience.

And what they saw had to be what Missouri fans have been aching for since the program went into a three-year, scandal-scarred, underachieving free fall at the end of the Snyder Era.

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