KANSAS CITY The Missouri Tigers are looking like more than just the best team in the Big 12 Conference. They might just be one of the top teams in the country.
The Tigers continued an impressive start to the Frank Haith era Tuesday night with a dominating 92-53 win over No. 20 California to win the CBE Classic Championship at the Sprint Center.
Three lopsided wins against SEMO, Mercer and Niagara to open the year likely didn't do much to impress folks. A 29-point win over Notre Dame and 39-point thrashing of California on consecutive nights is a different story.
In their first real test, the 21st-ranked Tigers aced it with flying colors. And they made believers out of a lot of college basketball fans and pundits in the process.
Missouri had six players in double figures Tuesday, moving to 5-0 on the season in convincing and historic fashion. It's believed to be the Tigers' most lopsided victory over a ranked opponent since research that began in 1949.
"The kids are buying in and that's great to see," Haith said. "I think we understand we have to remain hungry. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We understand there's still a level we can get to basketball-wise.
"There were some things we saw tonight that we can learn from. As long as our guys focus and understand that we have to continue to work, we've got a chance. There's no doubt about it, we have a chance."
The Tigers have a chance to have a special season down in Columbia. With four senior starters leading a veteran and battle-tested group, Missouri appears poised to compete for more than just the Big 12 Championship.
Marcus Denmon's continued improvement was on full display this week, earning the CBE Classic Most Valuable Player Award after scoring 26 points against Notre Dame and 18 more against California.
Denmon's field goal percentage and points per game average has gone up in each of his four years at Missouri. After earning First-Team All-Big 12 honors a season ago, the senior could crash the All-American party this year.
But as good as Denmon is, he's just one of a plethora of talented guards the Tigers have this season. Senior Kim English had 19 points and hit three 3-pointers Tuesday while sophomore point guard Phil Pressey had 17 points Monday against the Irish.
Phil's brother Matt Pressey has provided additional senior leadership in the starting lineup while junior guard Michael Dixon has come off the bench to average nearly 10 points per game.
The early knack on the Tigers has been their lack of size inside. Ricardo Ratliffe is their tallest starter at 6-foot-8 and English is the next tallest at 6-foot-6. But with more of the same shooting display they showed the past two nights, their lack of size won't matter.
The Tigers shot 58.8 percent from the field Tuesday and have shot at least 46 percent in all five games. They hit 10 three-pointers, the third time in five games that they've reached double digits from the behind the arc.
Simply put, these Tigers are for real.
"This is the best I've felt in my four years because this is the most selfless team I've played on," English said. "We're all buying into the process every day - film, studying, staying after practice, learning our personnel - the staff is so meticulous and it's just paying dividends in our performances."
In Denmon, English and Pressey, the Tigers have more than just the best three-guard combo in the conference. They've got one of the best guard combinations in the country.
And if folks want to rip on their inside game, Ratliffe's 11.4 points per game proves that the Tigers have some thunder down low as well. When Ratliffe went to the bench with two early fouls, 6-foot-9 Steve Moore came off the bench and contributed a career high 10 points in the first half.
Missouri has finished higher than fifth place in the Big 12 regular season standings just once in the past 12 years. If the Tigers continue to play like they did in Kansas City, that stat will surely change.
"We're working hard and continue to do the things we need to do to get better as a team," Denmon said. "It's something that we can't worry about, what other people are saying or what other people see. As long as we continue to keep working and getting better and get wins, everything else will take care of itself."
The Tigers appear more than ready to let things take care of themselves this year. This group can play.