St. Louis (KMOV.com) -- Here's something to think about tonight as you try to get through the workday longing for 8:37 tonight on KMOV when the Tigers tip-off against the other Tigers.
How will Missouri handle their nerves tonight?
When I spoke with Coach Anderson at the team hotel yesterday, he mentioned the team dealing with some nerves.
To be honest with you, that scares me a bit.
Missouri's three "worst" losses this year were against Illinois, Kansas, and Texas A & M.
The constant through all three of those losses? A big game atmosphere with a packed house.
Now, one may fairly point out that two of those three losses were on the road in insanely unfriendly conditions in Lawrence, Kansas and College Station, Texas. However, the loss to Illinois was the most uncharacteristic and "blah" performance of the year...and it took place on the neutral floor of the Scottrade Center.
Were these losses a case of nerves? Or, were they just coincidences?
Even in their win against KU at home, the team came out so bizarrely poorly that they put up only 16 points in the first half.
That cannot happen against Memphis tonight. If it does, the #3 seed Tigers will be about 25 points down to the #2 seed Tigers.
It is fair to point out that even though this team does have some senior leadership, guys like DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons, and Matt Lawrence haven't played in a game as big as this one...and really, they hadn't played in games as big as the one against Illinois at the time and at KU and A & M. Why? Because the team had been so bad or average that the games in the past have been really more or less irrelevant...and the other team's fan bases didn't get "up" for Missouri.
It's a different story now...and so you have veterans slightly unfamiliar with the kind of atmosphere they're going to get at the University of Phoenix Stadium tonight...and then you have seven freshman who were playing in high school gymnasiums this time last year.
A fair way to counter the nerves theory is by saying that the Tigers played a huge game four days ago against Marquette...and they came out victorious.
I guess I would say that the win over Marquette, while thrilling and huge, wasn't in a city like Phoenix (it was Boise) or a building that hosted a Super Bowl 14 months ago and an NFC Championship Game two months ago (it was the Taco Bell Arena for heaven's sake).
Furthermore, while Marquette is a good team, they're not at the level of Memphis.
This is the grandest stage, not just physically, but literally, of Thursday night's NCAA Tournament Games.
It's essentially Missouri's first real chance to show the entire country what it can do and how far it's come from the debacles of recent years.
How will we know if the Tigers are handling this task with a cool approach?
Keep an eye on the first few Missouri offensive sequences. If they have a steady half-court offensive approach featuring three or more passes and a good look at the basket, even if the ball doesn't go in, that will show me that they are not freaked out by the stage. On the other hand, if they go down there, pass it once, and then fire up a 3 or a contested 15-footer, I'll then enter panic mode along with them.
This team is at its best when it's pressuring the opposition into turning the ball over, but in order to set up that press, the Tigers have to score in their half-court offense. The key to that is to work the ball around and either get it inside or to work the ball around for an open look on the perimeter. If you see Missouri doing that early, you know they're ready to try and score one of the biggest wins in the school's history.
Tim McKernan hosts "The Morning After" on Team 1380 and runs Insidestl.com