By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com
I'm a Missouri Tigers fan.
It's a stressful occupation, but that's my team when it comes to college athletics.
However, if you know me, follow me on Twitter or have befriended on Facebook, you know that I'm a reasonable fan who doesn't drink the Kool-Aid that many fans chug all the time.
I detest homers and I detest the general idea of picking your own team to win the title every year.
It's something I've never done.
On top of that, I'm pessimistic when it comes to anything Missouri Tigers related. There's always that feeling about the "other foot coming down" when things are going so well.
In my lifetime, Missouri's also won just three big games - beating Memphis in the 2009 Sweet 16, beating Kansas at Arrowhead in 2007 and beating Oklahoma in football at Columbia in 2010.
Outside of those three games, some runs in the Big 8/12 tournament and a few nice wins against KU in basketball, there hasn't been too much to celebrate as a Missouri sports fan.
In addition, there was the Fifth Down, the Flea Kicker and Tyus Edney. No college sports team has suffered more punches to the gut than the Missouri Tigers.
So when I say the Missouri Tigers are going to win the 2013 NCAA men's basketball championship this season, that pick is not influenced by my own rooting interests.
Missouri's my pick when I look at the team on paper. They are my pick because the Tigers will likely enter the season as a Top 10 team. They're my pick because I think a lot of talented players in the program will come together and get hot at the right time.
So why are my Missouri Tigers going to win the 2013 NCAA title this season?
Let me count the ways for you.
1. POST PRESENCE
For the first time in a while, the Missouri Tigers could have a deep front-line. Alex Oriakhi, the high-profile transfer from UCONN that helped the Huskies win a national title, is immediately eligible to play. Oriakhi's defense garnered some positive reviews during the Huskies' unlikely run to the national championship in 2011. Post defense was a big failure for the Tigers last year - ask Kyle O'Quinn about that.
Along with Oriakhi, the Tigers will also add 6'9 Independence Community College transfer Tony Criswell. Criswell was recruited by multiple schools in the SEC. And perhaps most importantly, Lawrence Bowers returns to the lineup for the Tigers. Bowers averaged nearly two blocks and he gives Missouri another option on the front-line. If Bowers was healthy last season, the Tigers may have been ready for a deep tournament run.
Missouri signed Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg, two freshmen who are in the 6'9" - 6'10" range.
Again, Missouri should be pretty good with size - an important ingredient in going deep in March.
2. PHIL PRESSEY AND MICHAEL DIXON
This back-court will be scary for the SEC.
Missouri's four-guard offense was one of the funnest and most lethal offenses to watch last year in college basketball. Pressey and Dixon were two of the reasons why.
Pressey is already getting some run as an All-American candidate, while Dixon played pretty well at times last year for the Tigers.
Having a reliable point guard who can lead is critical to win games when it matters most. By the end of the 2013 regular season and come tournament time, the Tigers could have two in Pressey and Dixon.
3. A DEEP ROTATION
When Missouri got in foul trouble last year, the Tigers were cooked. See the game at Allen Fieldhouse last year. This year, the Tigers may be able to afford some foul trouble because of the transfers and freshmen coming into the program.
Along with Oriakhi and Criswell, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown transferred to Missouri last year. And all are eligible to play. Bell is a 6'3" shooting guard who averaged 19 points a game in his last season at Pepperdine; Ross is a 6'5" junior and averaged 13.1 points in his sophomore season at Auburn and Brown was a Top-20 recruit who left Oregon early into the season. Brown has plenty of potential and is a 6'5" shooting guard.
The Tigers have the potential to go eight or nine guys deep. During the 2012 season, Missouri sometimes was forced to go seven or even just six deep.
4. LAST YEAR'S EARLY TOURNAMENT LOSS
In sports, you often have to overcome adversity and previous losses to win the big one. Last year's loss to Norfolk State was a terrible way to end last year. But it may have been the best way possible to begin this season for the returning members of the team.
Losses refocus players - and no loss hurts more than losing to a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
5. FRANK HAITH
While you can judge his (or any coach's) X-and-O's qualifications and game management, Haith proved that he could do a good job handling new players and getting them to buy into what he's preaching. Kim English, in particular, adopted a new role for the team last year and they thrived.
Transferring a bunch of players into a program can be tough, but Haith is the right coach for the situation. The Tigers may start off a little slow and rusty because of the newcomers, but by the end of the season, they will be dangerous.
If a team with the history of Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA - or yes, Kansas - had the the key returners and influx of new talent into the program, they'd be considered a big Final Four favorite.
Missouri, on paper, is a threat to win the national title.
I think "on paper" translates to reality in March and April - and Tigers fans will finally have something to celebrate after years of gut-wrenching losses.