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The Early Lead
Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 01/24/2012

Is Missouri really college basketball’s second-best team behind Kentucky?


Coach Frank Haith, right, has had a strong first season at Missouri (L.G. Patterson - AP)
For some, Missouri’s hiring of Frank Haith during the Final Four served as a punchline to conclude the season. During his tenure at Miami, Haith was known as a strong recruiter whose Hurricanes sometimes underachieved.

But it should also be noted that the Miami head job is one of the nation’s toughest in a power conference. And in his first season at Missouri, Haith is on his way to strong national coach of the year consideration. The strongest evidence of Missouri’s impressive season came this weekend, when the Tigers eked out a victory on the road against a much taller Baylor team.

Missouri is ranked second nationally in both the Associated Press and the coaches’ polls.

Is it warranted?

(Gary Parrish takes a closer look at some of the more curious voting in the polls in his always-interesting weekly look at such issues.)

This was billed as the Season for the Great Teams. But more than midway through, most of those highly touted teams - namely North Carolina and Ohio State - have stumbled a bit more than expected.

Missouri’s lone defeat came at Kansas State on Jan. 7. The Tigers’ best victory came, obviously, this past weekend in Waco, Tex. They have also beaten a good Illinois team and a decent California team on neutral courts. Their nonconference strength of schedule is 268th nationally, in part I believe because two usually formidable opponents, Notre Dame and Villanova, have disappointed to varying degrees this season.

Haith’s team is an extremely efficient offensive basketball team. In fact, efficiency guru Ken Pomeroy has Missouri ranked first nationally in offensive adjusted efficiency. No team in the nation shoots better inside the three-point arc, where the Tigers make 57.6 percent of their attempts.

Missouri is one of the nation’s more experienced teams. And it’s commonly known that the Tigers are among the nation’s shortest teams. They rank 301st in average height, for what it’s worth. It was something they certainly overcame at Baylor.

Personally, I would give second place to Syracuse, whose only loss (Notre Dame) came without Fab Melo. More than that, the Orange has played the nation’s third-ranked schedule. But I won’t quibble with any second-place votes for Missouri, whose coach has proved many critics wrong.

More on Washington Post Sports

Maryland coverage at Terrapins Insider

Virginia coverage at Cavaliers Journal

Virginia Tech coverage at Hokies Journal

By  |  02:04 PM ET, 01/24/2012

 
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