81 / 55
      68 / 46
      72 / 53

      Hoop it up!

      L.G. Patterson/AP

      Now it feels like basketball season.

      Not necessarily for the Missouri Tigers just yet --- exhibition games against Oklahoma City and Central Missouri, then games that "count" against Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Illinois, hardly inspire a feel of March Madness.

      (More on MU to come.)

      We're still in the heart of football season, especially for the Tigers and Kansas City Chiefs. But now we have the Dwayne Bowe situation --- the Chiefs wide receiver is facing charges of possession of marijuana and speeding after being arrested in suburban Kansas City on Sunday night.


      (There will not be more on Bowe to come.)

      But it's time to make room and share the spotlight for the other really big guys with too many tattoos. Of course, we're referring to college basketball. The NBA doesn't really count until May ... if then.

      Tuesday gave us a slice of hoop heaven. It was a basketball marathon on ESPN, highlighted by No. 1 Kentucky playing No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke playing No. 5 Kansas.

      Those four teams have an estimated 16 --- 16! --- NBA first-round picks. It doesn't really matter where these teams are ranked right now or who even won, for that matter. This had the passion of March basketball.

      Back to Columbia ...

      Under Frank Haith, the Tigers overachieved two seasons ago during a splendid 30-5 season, which earned MU a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

      But the season ended with a colossal flop, a first-round loss to Norfolk State, which was a 22-point underdog. Woof, woof.

      Last year, the Tigers climbed to No. 7 in the polls in mid-December, then flopped again --- a 23-11 record and a first-round loss to Colorado State in the Dance.

      Here's how it unfolded:

      * Missouri was ranked No. 15 in the preseason poll.

      * Senior guard Michael Dixon, the only true security blanket for point guard Phil Pressey, started the season on the bench as he dealt with some "off the court issues." Most believed it had to do with his classwork.

      * Dixon left the program in late November. In the end, those "off the court issues" had everything to do with a lack of class, not a lack of classwork.

      * The Tigers started the season 10-1, with the lone loss coming to powerful Louisville during a trip to the Bahamas. No shame there --- in either the loss or the location of the loss. Missouri had climbed to No. 12 in the polls.

      * The next week, MU climbed to No. 7 in the nation after a win over then-No. 10 Illinois in the always-festive, just-before-Christmas, Braggin' Rights Game in St. Louis. Happy Holidays, Tiger fans!

      * The Tigers dropped back to No. 12 after dropping an overtime decision at UCLA. Missouri was in charge down the stretch, but let it slip away. These things happen once in a while, right? No big deal.

      * Senior Laurence Bowers went down with a knee injury in Missouri's SEC opener against Alabama. He would miss the next five games, while Keion Bell also missed time with an ankle injury. Missouri went 2-3 in that stretch.

      * The Tigers started losing games on the road they should have won, and the scenario was always the same --- poor play down the stretch, with Pressey leading the poor-play show. They lost five more games in the regular season --- four by three points or less, one in overtime --- using the exact same script.

      * The Tigers went down with a whimper, not a fight, against Colorado State. All the evidence you need --- MU was outrebounded by a staggering 42-19 in that game. It was a non-effort.

      Here's a back-and-forth I had Haith after that game in Lexington, Ky. This chat was like MU's tournament run, one and done.

      Q: "Coach, what did this team never really "get" or grasp that you wanted them to do this season? And if you had to tweak something along the way and do something different, what would that have been?"

      A: "Tom, let me just say this to you --- I'm proud of what this team did this year. This team made it to the NCAA Tournament, I'm very proud of what they accomplished."

      Really? Does that answer pass the smell test?

      To me, it was full of more horse-droppings than the average Kentucky pasture.

      What accomplishments, exactly? Being satisfied with being regarded as one of the top 68 teams in the country, just like North Carolina A&T and Florida Gulf Coast? Is that where this program is?

      Florida Gulf Coast, by the way, beat Georgetown in its NCAA debut in March, and then beat San Diego State to advance to the Sweet 16.

      Now THAT is an accomplishment, Frank.

      Now comes this season ...

      If you keep counting in the AP Poll and those "others receiving votes," Missouri is tied for 40th with Stanford and Saint Louis.

      The Tigers only have two seniors on the roster, 6-5 guard Earnest Ross and 6-9 forward Tony Criswell (he's currently suspended for a violation of team rules).

      This roster is now full of guys bigger than circus jugglers on stilts --- no less than eight players are listed at 6-9 or taller. Averaging the height of all players, it's the second-biggest team in the nation, trailing only Georgetown.

      Nice to have around if you need something off the top shelf.

      Still, this might be a guard-dominated lineup when the game's on the line, with Ross, junior Jabari Brown, junior Jordan Clarkson (a transfer from Tulsa) and true freshman Wes Clark on the floor at the same time.

      Against Southern Illinois --- and in front of a crowd just slightly smaller than your neighbor's garage sale --- the Tigers pulled away in the second half in a 72-59 win.

      The lead was just 35-34 at the half, but the Tigers (2-0) used a 37-25 scoring edge in the second half to secure the 13-point win. Clarkson led the charge with a career-high 31 points, Brown scored 17 and Ross had 11.

      This was the second game of a five-game NCAA suspension for Haith for his actions while he was head coach at Miami, Fla. And for the second game, it didn't matter. The remaining games won't matter, either, against Hawaii in Kansas City, and home games against Gardner-Webb and IUPUI.

      You, me or your dog could coach the Tigers in these five games and go 5-0. Woof, woof.

      Winter us upon us and so is basketball season. We will enjoy one.

      The other, not so much.