(No Links today...I'm not going to talk too much about how amazing Mizzou pitched the last two days against Baylor, as we still have one more game left in the series. And I was this close to having my bracket in good shape, but A&M couldn't hold on against UCLA. Anyhoo, enjoy this What If... post instead, and expect a boatload of links tomorrow. Oh yeah, and make sure to vote.)
As a third straight postseasonless basketball season enters the books, it’s time to yearn for a better land...What If Land. That's right...it took a while, but I'm back to revisiting my favorite, most nerdy posts (yes, these are most certainly nerdier than my Beyond the Box Score bits...no doubt about it).
To set the table for my first trek back into "What If..." posts, I’m going to quote liberally from my first "What If..." from way back in February of last year. No need to rehash it if I did a decent job (to me) the first time around, right?
I can pinpoint the exact moment where I was most optimistic about Mizzou basketball and the Quin Snyder Era. It was the morning of September 28, 2002. A few hundred Tiger fans and I attended a basketball scrimmage that morning before the epic Mizzou-Troy State football game that afternoon, and things couldn’t have gone better. Mizzou was coming off an Elite Eight appearance, Luol Deng was visiting, and it was the first chance for a lot of people to get a look at Ricky Clemons, a JUCO point guard whom Quin Snyder had spent a good portion of the offseason wooing. What happened? Well, Clemons made something like 9 of 10 3-pointers, Deng scored at will and looked extremely happy to be in Columbia and comfortable around the other players (this came on top of news that Deng and his father were not happy with the negative way Coach K and Duke were recruiting him), and I could hardly contain myself. I breathlessly reported back to people at our tailgate just how great Clemons and Deng were, and how great this could be for Mizzou basketball.
Like I said, that was the zenith of my optimism. Almost everything that happened from that point on represented a trip down a downward slope. First, Deng signed with Duke, negative recruiting or no negative recruiting.
And then Clemons assaulted his girlfriend because she didn’t want to watch Roots.
And then Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to try and win a Pulitzer with heavy exposes of the dark side of the Mizzou program.
And then Mizzou bowed out in overtime in the second round of the NCAA’s.
And then Clemons crashed an ATV on the school president’s lawn while out of prison because of a lie and got officially kicked off the team.
And then Mizzou got put on probation because, among other things, Quin gave Clemons some flip flops and made a recruit (who didn’t even end up coming to Mizzou) a burger.
And then the 2003-04 Mizzou team, a possible Final Four contender with or without Clemons, became possibly the worst underachiever in Mizzou history, losing to the likes of Belmont and missing out on the NCAA’s altogether.
And then the 2005-06 team missed the postseason altogether, resulting mercifully in Quin Snyder’s firing.
(Yes, that was a relatively selective look at the last 5 years. Sue me.)
We didn’t realize at the time, a full 61 months ago, that we were witnessing the destruction of the Mizzou basketball program (not a St. John’s-level destruction, but three straight years with no postseason is destruction enough for me), but we were. Last year, I looked at this from the "What if Ricky Clemons hadn’t come here?" direction, but I’m taking a different path this time. What if Scott Bakula went back in time and took over the body/mind of Jessica Bunge for just one night? What if she had just watched freaking Roots?? It's a masterpiece of TV cinema, after all! How would that have affected the trajectory of Mizzou basketball?
Okay, that’s insensitive. How about this: what if Ricky just hadn’t lost his mind that night? Chances are, if it didn’t happen that night, it would have at some point, but let’s not think about that. Maybe she doesn’t come over that night. Maybe he never meets her at all. Maybe he doesn’t end up dating anybody during his time in Columbia. However you want to set it up...What If Ricky Clemons hadn’t assaulted Jessica Bunge?
Click 'Full Story' for the rest.
It’s hard to tell what kind of impact the Ricky/Jessica incident had on the ’02-’03 season. Clemons’ play took a nosedive in February, but that was due mostly to the broken hand he suffered. He played through the pain, which was admirable, and while a one-handed Clemons was still better than the backup option (Ryan Kiernan or an out-of-position Jimmy McKinney), it was still quite a step backward. Clemons was also putrid in the postseason, and there were rumors that he was tanking or whatever, but as far as we know, he was horrible because he was horrible, and nothing more. So the only thing that changes in ’02-’03 is that we only lose by 5-10 at Oklahoma State in 20—that’s the game where Clemons was suspended and Ryan Kiernan was, shall we say, exposed. So we still go to the Big 12 Tourney finals, lose in the second round of the NCAAs to Final Four-bound Marquette, and finish the season at 22-11. But the offseason takes a particularly less dramatic turn.
NCAA Tournament: Second Round
It’s hard to make this conclusion for sure, but I think it’s a relatively decent bet that, if Clemons doesn’t assault Jessica Bunge, the Post-Dispatch doesn’t say "Sick ‘em" to Vahe Gregorian, and the seedy underbelly of the Quin Snyder administration—which probably wasn’t any seedier than 75% of the other programs in the country, but was seedy enough nonetheless—never comes to light. The never-confirmed rumors of Tony "T-money" Harvey being basically an ATM machine to the basketball players never come out. The "Quin gave Clemons some flip flops and had his wife make Steven Hill a burger" issues never come out. And we probably don’t end up on probation. That’s the way sanctions usually end up coming about—something sets off a domino effect. Without the first domino tipping, the rest remain upright. (Now, none of this changes the fact that the sleaze in this program still existed, whether exposed or not, but we’ll get to the ethical portion of this What If later on. That’s right, ethics in a What If...go figure.)
So instead of the tipped ATV and the "crackas be shakin’" and everything else that marked the Summer of 2003 (ugh, what a summer that was), all that happens is that expectations for the ’03-’04 season get even higher. Granted, that’s a lot more boring, but it’s preferrable nonetheless. Now, not only do Paulding, AJ, Travon, and McKinney return, but so does the starting point guard. Clemons isn’t known for all of the bad stuff—he’s just known for having averaged 14 PPG and having struggled down the stretch while playing with a broken hand. And the bench consists of hotshot freshmen Linas Kleiza and Thomas Gardner, not to mention eligible-at-end-of-semester Jason Conley (oh yeah, and Josh Kroenke and Kevin Young as well). Now that’s a team due some preseason hype!
Oh yeah, and the debacle that was the Randy Pulley Era never comes to fruition. Ahem.
In the real ’03-’04 season, point guard was obviously the biggest hindrance to success. The combination of Jimmy McKinney, Pulley, and Spencer Laurie just didn’t get the job done. McKinney just wasn’t a point guard, Pulley wasn’t D1 caliber, and Laurie wasn’t high-D1 caliber. Cut McKinney’s minutes and eliminate altogether the minutes of Pulley (who would never have come to Mizzou) and Laurie (who would have possibly redshirted), and you probably end up with a better team, no?
To determine how much of a change Clemons’ presence would have made to the ’03-’04 team, I looked at a couple of different stats and measures. First of all, I looked at the Net Equivalent Points (for an explanation of that tool, go here) involved for both Clemons and McKinney/Pulley/Laurie. With Ricky Clemons making the typical junior-year-to-senior-year minor improvements, Mizzou would have averaged about 3 more Net Equivalent Points per game than they did in the real 2003-04, while their opponents would have averaged about 3 fewer points. But we won’t go just with that.
I also looked at measures like the Points Per Possession for the ’02-’03 and ’03-’04 teams (on both offense and defense), not to mention the average possessions per game. In 2003-04, Mizzou actually averaged more points per possession without Clemons than with him in 2002-03. Seem strange? Well, my best explanation is that, even at his best, Ricky Clemons took a lot of shots (a lot more than the McKinney-Pulley-Laurie PG triumvirate did, to be sure), and those shots took away from the touches of more efficient players like Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson, not to mention Travon Bryant and (in ’03-’04) Linas Kleiza. When Clemons was hot, it was great. But when he was cold, he bogged down the offense. Now, his February ’03 broken hand played well into that inefficiency as well—before the broken hand, he was possibly Mizzou’s most consistent offensive weapon. Even with Clemons having two healthy hands, the offense wouldn’t have improved by leaps and bounds in ’03-’04...but the defense would have.
Ricky Clemons was actually quite strong on the defensive end of the ball. He was the best ball thief on the ’02-’03 team, and it’s likely he would have been the best the next season too. In ’02-’03, opponents averaged 0.98 points per possession, the best defensive performance of the Quin Snyder era. In ’03-’04, that number leaped to 1.06. That may not seem like a lot, but over the course of 68 or so possessions a game, that’s an extra 5 points. How much would those 5 points have meant to an ’03-’04 team that lost 5 games by 5 points or less and also lost two OT games (that obviously wouldn’t have gone to OT if the opponents had scored 5 fewer points)? Quite a bit, I’d say.
So here’s what we’re going to do: since we can’t guarantee that the lack of Clemons’ presence accounted for the entire leap from 0.98 to 1.06, we’re going to say that opponents only averaged 1.01 points per possession against Mizzou. So with a healthy (physically and more-or-less mentally) Clemons, we’ll say that the Mizzou offense averages 2 PPG game more, and their opponents average 2-3 PPG less.
So let's walk through the '03-'04 schedule, shall we? I won't go into this much detail for all seasons, as each progressive season brings, shall we say, more stretched statistical interpretations.
You’ll recall that the ’03-’04 schedule was set up in a strange manner, maximizing the number of games that would take place after the fall semester ended so that Jason Conley could play in as many games as possible.
Nov 29: Mizzou 92, Oakland 83 (in Detroit)
Dec 2: Mizzou 72, Coppin State 59
Dec 6: Mizzou 65, Indiana 55 (in Bloomington)
Dec 13: Mizzou 75, Gonzaga 71 (in Seattle) (Mizzou now wins in regulation, and the 8-second backcourt violation I’m still bitter about never happens)
Dec 21 (Conley’s debut): Mizzou 108, UNC-Greensboro 95
Dec 23: Mizzou 72, Illinois 69
Dec 27: Mizzou 61, Memphis 59
Dec 30: Mizzou 69, Belmont 68 (thank the lord)
So at the end of December, Mizzou is 8-0 instead of 4-4. That’s how gut-wrenching the real 2003-04 season was. A difference of 4-5 points makes a 4-game difference in December alone. Now, you can dispute a couple of things here. First of all, even with Clemons, Quin’s early-‘00s teams were more than capable of losing games they should have easily won, and it’s quite possible they could have still lost either or both of the Memphis and Belmont games. But even with a bad loss there, 7-1 would be just fine. At 4-4, the real ’03-’04 season was already basically lost.
Jan 3: Mizzou 78, Iowa 53
Jan 7: Iowa State 68, Mizzou 63 (in Ames...a Top 5 Mizzou team gets its first loss)
Jan 10: Mizzou 84, Texas A&M 74
Jan 12: Syracuse 79, Mizzou 70 (Syracuse was so dominant in this game...Clemons wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference)
Jan 17: Mizzou 60, Oklahoma 56 (in Norman...this game initially went to OT)
Jan 20: Mizzou 63, Texas 58 (the infamous AJ-blocks-straight-to-Boddicker game never goes to OT)
Jan 24: Mizzou 74, Nebraska 48
Jan 28: Colorado 81, Mizzou 72 (in Boulder)
Jan 31: Mizzou 64, Kansas State 50
So only one result is changed in January, and it’s what was initially the most gut-wrenching loss of the Snyder era (to me). Even with a few losses, this is by far Snyder’s most successful season, as Mizzou stands at 14-3 and 5-2 in conference.
Feb 2: Kansas 63, Mizzou 58 (in Lawrence)
Feb 7: Nebraska 76, Mizzou 64 (in Lincoln)
Feb 10: Mizzou 79, Colorado 62
Feb 15: Mizzou 96, UNLV 57 (oy)Feb 18: Mizzou 84, Iowa State 67Feb 21: Mizzou 72, Baylor 64 (in Waco)Feb 24: Mizzou 75, Oklahoma State 70 (this game no longer goes to double-OT)Feb 28: Mizzou 81, Kansas State 67 (you remember this one, right? One of the ultimate Ricky Bobby "THAT JUST HAPPENED" dunks?)
So Mizzou catches fire at the end of February after a slight slump. The Tigers head to Lubbock at 20-5, 10-4 in conference.
Mar 3: Texas Tech 85, Mizzou 78
Mar 7: Mizzou 84, Kansas 81 (KU no longer wins the final game at Hearnes)
The regular season finishes with Mizzou at 21-6 and 11-5 in the Big 12 (8-0 at home, 3-5 on the road). Honestly, with the expectations set at the beginning of the season, with Mizzou returning its entire starting five, 11-5 might have been a bit of a disappointment. Quin’s reputation for his teams underachieving in conference play continues. However, they do earn a first-round bye in the Big 12 tourney for the first time. That would have been lovely.
Mar 12: Mizzou 74, Oklahoma 68
Mar 13: Texas Tech 86, Mizzou 76
Their second loss of the month to Bobby Knight’s Red Raiders is a disappointment, and a 2-2 finish to a 22-7 season hurts their NCAA seed a bit, but their #12 RPI ranking (their schedule really was pretty strong) helps a lot.
So for the 2004 NCAA Tournament, Mizzou is the #5 seed in the South (Atlanta) Region. (For all intents and purposes, they replace Illinois in that region.)
Mar 19: #5 Mizzou 74, #12 Murray State 53
Mar 21: #5 Mizzou 94, #4 Cincinnati 68 (Illinois absolutely smoked Cincy that year)
So once again, it appears Mizzou is peaking in March, and two easy first-weekend wins in Columbus set up another Quin-versus-Coach-K matchup.
Mar 26: Duke 72, Mizzou 64 (ironically, Luol Deng leads Duke to victory)
So in What If Land, Mizzou advances to the second weekend of the NCAAs for the second time in three years, and the recruiting class of 2000 (Paulding, AJ, Travon) finishes its eligibility with 7 career NCAA tourney wins, easily the best ever at Mizzou. Quin’s reputation—struggle on the road, peak in March—is furthered, and while Mizzou fans are still not completely satisfied, it’s hard to complain.
2003-04 Record: 24-8 (11-5)
NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen
This one’s easy. Nothing major changes on the recruiting end—the class still consists of Jason Horton, Marshall Brown, Kalen Grimes, and Glen Dandridge (remember how good that class was supposed to be?), and the extra scholarship (and furthered success) leads to the commitment of Steven Hill. (Mizzou was also in on Marvin Williams that year, but we obviously weren’t going to get him no matter what.) Nothing else changes on the roster.
Starting five: Jason Horton (Fr), Jimmy McKinney (Jr), Thomas Gardner (So), Linas Kleiza (So), Kevin Young (Jr).
Bench: Jason Conley (Sr), Marshall Brown (Fr), Kalen Grimes (Fr), Steven Hill (Fr), Spencer Laurie (RSFr...soon to transfer), Jeffrey Ferguson (Jr...soon to leave for good...finally), Glen Dandridge (Fr)
In other words, an exciting-looking top seven...and that’s about it. A dropoff is expected, but the highly-touted recruiting class (four 4-star recruits!) means the NCAA Tournament is still expected.
And if you remember the 2004-05 season, nothing was getting that team to the NCAA Tournament. The Paige Laurie Sports Arena’s (gag) first season is a disappointment. The freshmen don’t contribute much, and after an okay start (after a conference-opening win against Iowa State, Mizzou sits at 9-5), the bottom falls out (Mizzou loses 8 of 9 and has to to on a winning streak toward the end of the season just to qualify for the NIT). Maybe this team would be a point or two improved due to the lack of the overall funk surrounding the program, but well...that really doesn’t make that much of a difference. A 16-17 season still ends with a home loss to Diener Brother #9 and DePaul in the first round of the NIT.
2004-05 is Quin’s first truly disappointing season, and he enters 2005-06 under a little bit of pressure.
He also enters 2005-06 with Tyler Hansbrough.
2004-05 Record: 16-17
NCAA Tournament: none
That’s right. When Tyler Hansbrough is ready to make his decision in the late-summer of 2004, Mizzou is coming off yet another successful March, and probation is nowhere near the horizon. From all indications, those were the major determining factors in Hansbrough deciding to leave his home state to play for Roy Williams in Chapel Hill. Granted, he still may have chosen UNC, but...this is my What If. Get your own if you disagree.
So Mizzou heads into the ’05-’06 season needing some wins, and they’re pretty likely to get them with the future National Player of the Year from Poplar Bluff in the starting lineup. Also incoming for this season: highly-touted (and soon-to-be disappointment) JUCO point guard Eddie Smith (who ended up choosing ATM in real life), Leo
CriswellLyons, and walk-on Matt Lawrence.
Starters: Jason Horton (So), Jimmy McKinney (Sr), Thomas Gardner (Jr), Tyler Hansbrough (Fr), Steven Hill (So—a nice defensive complement for Hansbrough)
Bench: Marshall Brown (So), Eddie Smith (Jr), Glen Dandridge (So), Kevin Young (Sr), Kalen Grimes (So), Matt Lawrence (Fr), Leo Lyons (redshirting).
That’s some serious friggin’ depth in the post...enough depth that Quin Snyder chooses to redshirt Leo Lyons. Matt Lawrence has to play because, well, the backcourt depth is extremely lacking. Eddie Smith comes in with high expectations, but is mediocre at best. So Gardner, McKinney, and Horton all end up averaging some serious minutes (32+ MPG), and Dandridge/Lawrence are forced to play more minutes than their talent would suggest they play, as Marcus Watkins is not on the team (without the Ricky fallout, T-Money and Odom don’t depart, and Melvin Watkins is never hired...and therefore, naturally, his son never walks on).
How well does a team with great size and poor guardplay go?
First off, Mizzou now does not lose to Sam Houston to start the season...thank god. And we’ll go ahead and say that, due to some Hansbrough heroics, they beat Drexel and actually make the Preseason NIT semis like they were supposed to. They still lose to Duke, but they actually knock off UCLA (who barely beat Drexel) for third place. An optimistic start to the season.
After a couple of easy wins (Northwestern State, UMKC), the Tigers travel to Fayetteville and knock off a mediocre Arkansas squad (67-66), then it’s off to Davidson, where they still lose. They also still lose to Illinois, but this time nobody throws popcorn on Quin. At the end of the non-conference season (a super-easy slate beyond these games), Mizzou stands at 11-3 (instead of the real-life 8-4).
(We won’t relive just how painful these games were to watch in real-life. Even the wins were gross.)
The conference slate starts well for Mizzou—they thump OSU at home, take home a win in Norman, then come back to Columbia for hard-fought wins over Colorado and Kansas. They’re 4-0 and 15-3 overall, but then comes the stretch of games that saw Mizzou lose 10 of 11 in real-life (the stretch that cost Quin his job). How much of a difference does this new roster make?
Well, they still lose at K-State, and they still get randomly pummeled by Iowa State at home. However, they take home a 1-point win in Lincoln, then come home to upset Texas by one as well. Road losses to Tech and Baylor follow, but when they knock off Kansas State (82-67) on February 12, their record is a solid 18-7, 7-4 in conference. Instead of having lost 7 of 8, they actually managed a respectable 3-4 record in this span. More road losses—at Kansas and Colorado—prevent Mizzou from garnering too much momentum, but a 72-59 win over Nebraska on Senior Night caps off a solid 21-9 season, and their 10-6 conference record is good enough for a 4-seed in the Big 12 Tourney.
On Friday, Mizzou plays 5-seed Texas A&M, who obliterated Baylor in Round One. Gardner and Hansbrough outduel Acie Law IV and Joseph Jones, and Mizzou takes it 72-71. Saturday sees a rubber match between KU and Mizzou. It’s not close. KU wins 80-65, then takes out Texas in the finals. Mizzou moves back to the NCAA Tournament at 22-10, though their #43 RPI hinders their seeding.
The main goal for 2005-06 was to get back to the NCAA Tournament, and Mizzou accomplished that. However, their stay is short. They draw the 12 seed in the Washington DC region and play Washington in Round One. They lose 65-61, and their season ends at 22-11. Seniors Jimmy McKinney and Kevin Young depart (as does junior Eddie Smith), but Mizzou will have high hopes for ’06-’07.
2005-06 Record: 22-11
NCAA Tournament: First Round
The ’06-’07 roster is a nice mix of veterans and new blood. Eddie Smith’s departure opened up an extra scholarship, but get this—Quin’s still here, and so is Thomas Gardner. He returns for his senior season. But here’s the incoming recruiting class:
Armon Bassett (who committed to Mizzou in real-life before deciding to stay close to home at Indiana—with Mizzou’s extra success, staying ‘close to home’ isn’t nearly as big a concern)
Ty Morrison (another original Mizzou commit, and another highly touted JUCO transfer who quickly disappoints)
Isaac Miles (who Mizzou stopped recruiting when Quin was fired)
Ben Hansbrough (you can’t tell me he wouldn’t have ended up here if Tyler were here)
Keaton Grant (another original commit who ended up at Purdue)
Unfortunately, Keon Lawrence is not part of this class, as he was a Melvin Watkins recruit. So here’s what we’ve got for ’06-’07:
Starters: Jason Horton (Jr), Armon Bassett (Fr), Thomas Gardner (Sr), Tyler Hansbrough (So), Steven Hill (Jr). Four returning starters and a heady freshman.
Bench: Marshall Brown (Jr), Ben Hansbrough (Fr), Leo Lyons (RSFr), Kalen Grimes (Jr), Keaton Grant (FR), Isaac Miles (Fr), Glen Dandridge (Jr), Matt Lawrence (So—redshirting due to sudden guard depth).
With a slightly smaller squad and a deeper bench, the pace of play in ’06-’07 is a bit higher.
You’ll recall that the ’06-’07 schedule was, shall we say, far from difficult. Wins over NC A&T, Army, Stetson, Lipscomb, Stephen F. Austin, and Coppin State start the season and get the freshmen some experience and playing time. Slaughters of Arkansas and Evansville move Mizzou to 8-0 before their first roadtrip of the season, a loss at Purdue (79-74). However, Mizzou ends a 2-game losing streak against Illinois, winning the Braggin’ Rights game, 72-71. Easy wins over Southern U. and Mississippi State follow, and Mizzou enters conference play at 11-1, though their strength of schedule leaves something to be desired.
With Hansbrough and Gardner, Mizzou no longer loses to Iowa State in Columbia to start conference play, but the Kevin Durant Longhorns still smoke them in Austin. Mizzou returns to Columbia and knocks off Bob Huggins’ K-State Wildcats, 84-83, then stuns Kansas in Lawrence (Quin’s first win there), 80-79. The two 1-point wins give Mizzou legitimacy and a 14-2 record.
After an easy win in Boulder, Mizzou returns home to smoke Texas Tech. They’re 16-2, but 3 losses in 4 games follow. K-State wins the rematch in Manhattan (80-75) and Aleks Maric’s Huskers upset Mizzou in Columbia (65-63). Mizzou crushes Iowa State in Ames (79-55), but they lose badly at home in their rematch with Kansas (91-76). This drops Mizzou to just 6-4 in conference, and their dreams of Quin’s first conference title begin to slide.
Mizzou bounces back from their slide with wins over Baylor (at home) and Oklahoma State (in Stillwater—when’s the last time they won in Stillwater and Lawrence in the same season?), but in their trip to Lincoln, Nebraska finishes the season sweep with an 82-79 victory. The Tigers beat Colorado at home on Senior Night, then lose in College Station to finish a 21-7 season (10-6 in conference, good for 4th place again).
For the second straight year, Mizzou takes on a 5-seed coming off an easy win. This time it’s Texas Tech, needing a good showing to secure an NCAA bid. Mizzou handles them, 77-65. The semis on Saturday see Mizzou taking on 9-seed Oklahoma State, who upset #1 Texas on Friday. Mizzou’s happy to avoid facing Kevin Durant again, and after a last-second 65-64 win, they get a rubber match against KU for the second straight year. For the second straight year, KU wins (88-80). Mizzou’s good showing, however, puts them at 23-8 for the season and secures a decent NCAA tourney seed.
2006 aside, the 5/12 game had been good to Quin Snyder’s Mizzou squads over the years (whether they were the 5 or the 12), and this year is no different. A 5-seed in the South Region, Mizzou easily dispatches of a Long Beach State team that cannot compensate for the Tyler Hansbrough’s inside game or the outside shooting of Thomas Gardner, Ben Hansbrough, and Armon Bassett. Mizzou wins easily, 94-77. The second-round game against 4-seed Virginia, however, is a lot closer. Gardner and Hansbrough make a series of free throws late, though, and a Cavalier 3-pointer at the buzzer rims out, giving Mizzou a 77-74 win.
So for the third time in the 8-year Quin Snyder era, Mizzou is in the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s due mostly to the inside-outside combo of Hansbrough and Gardner, plus timely contributions from a solid freshman class. And with Hansbrough, Mizzou is not at much of a disadvantage going up against Greg Oden and 1-seed Ohio State. However, both big men get in foul trouble early, and the game is decided by guardplay. Mike Conley Jr vs Jason Horton swings the game in favor of Thad Matta’s Buckeyes, and they pull out a 76-74 win, ending the solid career of lone senior Thomas Gardner. (Also departing: Ty Morrison, whose career was ended quickly due to illness, Kalen Grimes, whose career ended at a Dairy Queen, and Glen Dandridge, whose career had been over for a couple years, really)
2006-07 Record: 25-9
NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen
With strong depth in the backcourt, the class of 2007 focuses on size. Snyder signs a trio of big Missourians—George Goode (6’8, 210...signed with Louisville and redshirted), Jarryd Cole (6’7, 240...signed with Iowa, then tore up his knee halfway through the season), and Alex Tyus (6’8, 205...signed with Florida, contributed off of bench). Only one will make too much of a contribution in ’07-08, but with Tyler Hansbrough returning for his junior season, not much contribution is needed.
Starters: Armon Bassett (So), Keaton Grant (So), Ben Hansbrough (So), Leo Lyons (So—remember, he redshirted), Tyler Hansbrough (Jr).
Bench: Jason Horton (Sr), Steven Hill (Sr), Marshall Brown (Sr), Jarryd Cole (Fr), Matt Lawrence (So), Isaac Miles (So), Alex Tyus (Fr).
Toward the end of the previous season, youngsters (Bassett, Grant, B. Hansbrough, Lyons) started to outplay incumbents (Horton, Hill, Brown), and that’s reflected in what looks like a youth movement. Three experienced seniors are available to come off the bench in case the young guys get the yips, but this team is dominated by underclassmen...and once again, high expectations, above all the experience and young talent, Tyler Hansbrough is a National Player of the Year candidate.
The season starts with the CBE Classic. Mizzou handles Central Michigan (93-74) and Fordham (86-53) easily, and heads to Kansas City 3-0. Hansbrough and what's basically a homecourt advantage make the difference in a semifinal win against Michigan State (89-85), but Mizzou is tripped up by UCLA (68-67) in a dramatic final. Mizzou beats Arkansas in Fayetteville (97-92), then heads west for a Big 12-Pac Ten Challenge matchup against Arizona (better conference finishes in 2004-07 leads to a better foe in the Challenge). Arizona is peaking at this time of the season, and Mizzou fades in the second half for a disappointing loss (85-78), leaving them 6-2. Five consecutive wins--including ones over Purdue (79-61) and Illinois (64-58)--follow before a loss at Mississippi State (86-81...those damn road losses!) wraps up the nonconference season with Mizzou at 12-3. Good, but not great.
If there's any lingering disappointment with the road losses to Arizona and Mississippi State, it's quickly alleviated when conference play begins with a 104-82 thrashing of Texas. Hansbrough plays well, but it's the outside shooting of Bassett, Matt Lawrence, and Little Hansbrough that make the difference. Mizzou wins a tight one in Ames (73-71...road win!), then takes out Kansas at home (76-74). The 3-0 start takes a hit when Mizzou loses at Texas Tech (91-90), but the Tigers bounce back with wins at Colorado (72-61) and at home against Nebraska (69-64) and Kansas State (83-72). A loss at Kansas (89-77) leaves Mizzou at 6-2 (and 18-5) halfway through conference season. Is this the season Mizzou breaks into the Top 2 of the conference?
The second half of conference play starts well, as Mizzou holds off ATM down the stretch for a 76-75. Big Hansbrough dominates Aleks Maric in Lincoln, and a 92-77 win over Nebraska puts Mizzou at 8-2 and tied for first in the league. Unfortunately, a loss to a K-State buzzsaw (99-69) drops them back a game. Home wins over Colorado (66-51) and Oklahoma State (80-73) keep hope alive, but two road losses (to Baylor and Oklahoma) sandwich a Senior Night win, and Mizzou finishes at what is a very Mizzou-like 23-8, 11-5 in conference. Third place is nice, but Mizzou stays a step behind Kansas and Texas, and with that team that is another minor disappointment.
Iowa State upsets Baylor in the 6-11 game of the Big 12 Tournament, meaning it's the Cyclones facing Mizzou on Friday. An easy 76-62 Mizzou win sets up yet another Big 12 Tournament rubber match against 2-seed Kansas, the third straight year Mizzou has faced Kansas in the postseason. Does Mizzou finally win one of these matchups? No. KU wins 77-72, and Mizzou heads into Selection Sunday at 24-9 with a respectable #29 RPI.
Mizzou draws the 4-seed in the Phoenix Region and plays 13-seed San Diego in North Little Rock. Once again it's Hansbrough and a virtual homecourt advantage making the difference, as Mizzou pulls out a too-close-for-comfort 70-65 win. Western Kentucky upsets UConn in the 5-12 game, so as we catch up to the present day, Mizzou is preparing to play WKU in Round 2 (and I'm blogging from a Little Rock hotel with a sink full of ice and beer cans right now). Winner plays the winner of UCLA-BYU in Phoenix. We're really close to a Love vs Hansbrough Sweet Sixteen matchup. Other 2nd-round games in the region are WVU-Duke and Texas A&M-Xavier.
2007-08 Record: 25-9 (11-5)
NCAA Tournament: To Be Determined
As a whole, I feel like people make far too big a deal out of recruiting. Who teams get...who teams miss out on...it seems like our immediate reactions at the time of a commitment (good or bad) end up incorrect half the time. It's why basketball and college football recruiting have almost become sports in and of themselves. My interest in these things is still very strong, but it's not at the level it was a few years ago. I've just seen perception and reality end up too far apart too many times (how pissed were we when StL WR Chris Brooks changed his commitment from Mizzou to Nebraska?) to take it as seriously as I used to.
Now...all that said...Ricky Clemons may have caused the first domino to fall in Quin's (and Mizzou's) ultimate collapse, but few programs have been more defined by missing out on a single recruit as Mizzou was when they missed out on Tyler Hansbrough. Honestly, there's no point in doing any other "What If..." for the Quin era, as it all comes down to this: if Tyler Hansbrough plays in Columbia, Quin Snyder is still the coach, and Mizzou's still an annual tourney presence; if he doesn't, for whatever reason (Clemons or no Clemons), Quin's probably coaching the Austin Toros right now. If everything associated with Ricky Clemons hadn't happened, and yet Hansbrough had still been lured to Chapel Hill, Quin would maybe be holding on at Mizzou simply because Mike Alden has a really conservative trigger finger (just ask Cindy Stein)--we'd have probably finished around 7th or 8th in conference this year, and we likely never would have topped the 5th or 6th place finishes to which we were accustomed pre-Clemons. We'd be fully immersed in what I used to call Glen Mason Syndrome, where a coach is just successful enough to not get fired, but never successful enough to create a legitimate program. Nobody wants to be there.
In my What If world, however, Hansbrough ended up in Columbia, and the Quin Snyder era is rolling along. Things likely would have continued with the same impression we had developed every night before the one Ricky Clemons assaulted Jessica Bunge. Mizzou would have continuously made the NCAA Tournament--2007-08 would see Quin's 8th NCAA Tourney in 9 seasons--and occasionally gone to the second weekend, but weaknesses on the road and the occasional bad loss would prevent them from ever seeing anything above a 4-seed.
But here's the question: knowing what we know about the sleaze-under-the-surface portion of the Quin Snyder administration, would this--Hansbrough and 20-win seasons--have been worth it? Quin certainly toed the NCAA compliance line--that much is indisputable--and there was always the feeling that an NCAA investigation could be around the corner. Granted, some outlying incident usually has to take place to get the NCAA's attention, and the Roots incident certainly filled that role in real-life, but we don't know what else may have happened in proceeding years. We'd probably have always been a little paranoid (and justifiably so) about the NCAA knocking on the Mizzou Arena door, but sometimes that's the trade-off for on-court success, is it not?
So feeling how we feel about Quin, would you prefer having a) Quin still here, winning a solid number of games, never quite winning as much as you think he should, and occasionally toeing the ethics line, or b) Quin coaching in Austin and a new coach roaming the sidelines (and going through some major growing pains)? A year ago, this answer would have probably been obvious--I'd assume most (myself included) would have taken the new coach and a clean break from the conflicted feeling of the Quin era.
But now I'm not so sure. With Mike Anderson struggling to gain traction after two years, some probably think it may have been worth the negatives to have Quin on the sidelines and Tyler Hansbrough in black and gold. I mean hell, we still have people saying we should have hired Bob Huggins (most likely the same people who were screaming "Fire Pinkel! Hire Gary Barnett!" in 2005) in real life despite obvious ethical (and logistical--he'd still be coaching in Morgantown right now) reservations, so I'm sure there are plenty who would in no way be conflicted with said 'negatives'.
Personally, I don't know what to think about that trade-off. (That's right, it only took me 6,300 words to realize I don't know what to think about something. I rule.) What say you?