1) We kick off with perhaps Missouri’s most impressive win in a very impressive basketball season. The Tigers defeated Iowa State 78-61 on Saturday. The Cyclones came in as the number 12 team in the country (10 in the NET), leading for 44 seconds. The game was never closer than ten points in the second half (and only 17 seconds out of 10). The win could put Missouri back in the top 25. Whether or not that’s the case is relatively unimportant, but seeing a number next to your name is a nice reward for players and fans alike.
More importantly, it is more or less certain that Mizzou will return to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously I have to hedge a bit here. The only time you can call a team a tournament lock is when it can lose every game for the rest of the season and still compete. Missouri cannot lose every game for the rest of the season. That would leave the Tigers 16-16 with an 11-game losing streak and multiple heavy losses and that team won’t get in. But Mizzou has home games against LSU, South Carolina and Ole Miss. It would be shocking to lose one of those matches. spell. That leaves eight other matches. Missouri probably needs to win two to lock in a bid. Could Missouri still miss? Certainly. But it would take your breath away. I’ve been saying for most of the season that if the Tigers don’t make it to the tournament, I won’t consider the season a failure. That has changed. Missing the tournament now would be a bust as there is no reason to think they will miss it.
2) So let me join the long line of those throwing bouquets at Dennis Gates. The work he has done is remarkable. He took over a program that had hit rock bottom (well, not quite rock bottom; that happened in 2016). The Tigers won 12 games last season. He was hired on March 22 and had to completely redo the roster. He held Kobe Brown, which was probably the most important thing on his plate when he got the job. He then scoured the country looking for transfers. He got one who had previously played high-level basketball. Nick Honor looked like a serviceable point guard at the time, possibly even a backup point guard. He averaged 7.9 points, 2.3 assists, 1.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 57 games with Clemson. He shot 39.4% from the field and 34.5% from three-point range. It was fine, but it was nothing special. Honor now averages more points, assists, rebounds and steals with Missouri than Clemson and has a higher percentage of shooting from the field and from three-point range. His turnovers have gone from 1.0 per game to 1.1. And all this while you still play five minutes per game.
The rest of the roster was filled with mid-major and low-major players. Those players came from John A. Logan CC, Garden City CC, Northern Iowa, Milwaukee, Missouri State and Cleveland State. There was optimism among the fanbase because fans always think the best. But the skeptics were not unfounded in their thinking. How were you going to take a roster full of junior college and mid-major players and turn it into a good SEC basketball team?
Gates has. I’ll spend the next few points talking about how he did it.
3) The first is why I liked Gates as a candidate before Missouri took the hire: player development.