No, I won’t spend a couple hundred words bemoaning how the days of Missouri’s rivalry with Kansas shrink into the distance. However, it’s not a stretch to say there’s still vitriol vacuum that remains unfilled. There’s a reason why both fanbases gobbled up tickets last October for an exhibition game that raised funds for hurricane relief.
Over the past seven seasons, MU’s tried to evoke Big 12 nostalgia with non-conference games against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Iowa State. However, it also speaks to how no new fresh ire has taken hold since the university’s move to the SEC — an absence driven largely by Mizzou’s relatively mediocrity since switching affiliations. Even then, where would any potential rivalries rate within the league?
Once Jim Sterk hired Cuonzo Martin, it was reasonable to expect the animosity in Braggin’ Rights to ratchet up a couple notches. The spats between Mizzou and Illinois fans over recruiting battles for Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith and E.J. Liddell are the kinds of skirmishes that indicate a cold war is turning hot. Even if the on-court product isn’t elite, it’s hard to fathom the orange side of the Enterprise Center not being worked up over seeing Tilmon and Smith donning black and gold.
Why bring this up now? Well, the week brings almost 10 games where geographic proximities spice the matchups.
Distance makes loathing grow stronger
|Dec. 4||Lipscomb at Belmont||2.1|
|Dec. 8||Xavier at Cincinnati||2.4|
|Dec. 8||DePaul at Northwestern||10.8|
|Dec. 5||Temple at No. 21 Villanova||16.5|
|Dec. 8||BYU at Utah||49.9|
|Dec. 8||Creighton vs. No. 24 Nebraska||58.6|
|Dec. 8||No. 12 Wisconsin at Marquette||77.4|
|Dec. 8||Louisville at Indiana||105.5|
|Dec. 6||Iowa State at No. 18 Iowa||124.7|
|Dec. 5||Washington at No.1 Gonzaga||284.1|
Not every matchup is the has the kind of escalating hostilities we’ve seen in the Crosstown Showdown or the Beehive Classic. However, tilts between Gonzaga and Washington, Creighton and Nebraska, and Wisconsin and Marquette are all in-state clashes with same public vs. private dynamic at work. Meanwhile, Temple might trek from Philadelphia’s inner core to face off against Villanova, but it still carries the historical freight of the Big Five’s heyday.
The thing is, tradition can’t be conjured from thin air. When Missouri bailed on the Big 12, it made the reasonable calculation that trading tradition for stability was solid tradeoff. It’s also lived through the lowest ebb in the program’s history, which coincides with the Tigers’ five game losing skid to the Illini. Until Martin and Brad Underwood complete their respective rebuilds, the annual clash in St. Louis won’t return its rightful place among the nation’s better non-conference rivalries.
Here’s to hoping we’re only couple years away from games that would evoke old battles between Norm Stewart and Lou Henson.
We know you have competing demand for your time and attention span. No, you won’t have ESPN+ called up watching mid-week Atlantic Sun games. But if you want college hoops in your life, make sure to have your eyes on this game.
No. 1 Gonzaga at No. 7 Tennessee | 2 p.m. CT Sunday, ESPN
A month into the season, the SEC is still hunting for a premier non-conference victory. The Volunteers came close a couple of weeks ago in Brooklyn against Kansas — if not for Grant Williams fouling out near the end of regulation in an overtime loss.
The Vols get another crack on Sunday when they meet Mark Few’s squad for a neutral floor tilt in Phoenix.
For the Zags, the cross-country trek comes in the middle of a trying four-game span, which kicked off with a 103-92 road win at Creighton. Next up is a mid-week visit from Washington (No. 48 KenPom) and concluded by a Dec. 15 meeting with North Carolina (No. 8) in Chapel Hill. For all of Gonzaga’s talent and experience, the next two weeks are likely where their perfect record picks up its first blemish.
While the Zags toppled then-No. 1 Duke in Maui, they’ll encounter another stingy defense in Knoxville. The Vols not only rank second in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom, but they sit at No. 4 nationally in transition defense (0.696 PPP). When Rick Barnes’ team guards in the half court, his big men — Grant Williams, Admiral Scholfield and Kyle Alexander, are just as adept as their guards at contesting spot-up jumpers, with the trio only allowing 0.767 PPP and 25.5-percent shooting on those possessions.
Slowing the Zags isn’t that simple. Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert can space the floor and bomb away. Josh Perkins picks defenses apart out of high pick-and-rolls. Brandon Clarke, who redshirted last season after transferring from San Jose State, is thriving as a roll man, rim runner and driver against closeouts. Then there’s Rui Hachimura, whose multifaceted skill set includes grabbing a defensive rebound and leading fastbreak, space the floor to the 3-point arc or pirouette in the paint.
Tennessee’s offense, which ranks 32nd in efficiency, presents its own challenges after Barnes installed elements of the vaunted system Bob McKillop runs at Davdison. But the Vols’ chances may come down to how consistently they guard and disrupt the Zags otherwise flawless timing.
THE CONFERENCE CALL
Don’t look now, but the SEC is among the deepest conferences in the country. We want to spotlight one matchup, and not always the one that first comes to mind, that’s interesting, could influence national perception or have major implications for the league race.
No. 10 Michigan State at Florida | 11 a.m. CT Saturday, CBS
An upside to editing Sam Snelling’s SEC previews is it prompts me to think deeply about the conference’s hierarchy and how it settles out.
Even before Sam started pecking out his look-ahead for the Gators, we were skeptical about what was in store for Mike White’s program. UF’s roster amply stocked on the perimeter, but it’s an open question whether that rotation can max out its potential, while the frontcourt is still one that goes dormant and can be bludgeoned on the glass.
And if you read last week’s entry, ou’d know some of that foreshadowing has been an early reality. Now, we’ll get to check the gauges this week as Florida hosts West Virginia and the Spartans, who’ve shown a knack for clambering out of early holes they excavate against decent teams.
Right now, no one in the SEC has stated a clear case to be considered in the same class as No. 7 Tennessee, No. 8 Auburn, and No. 9 Kentucky. At the moment, Florida, Mississippi State, and LSU are a combined 0-5 against the KenPom top-50, with barely hanging in the AP poll at No. 22 Bulldogs while the Tigers dropped out last week. Alabama lost a road game against UCF and hosts Murray State — the preseason favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference — and Arizona this week. Meanwhile, it might be worth monitoring what’s going on in Fayetteville, where Arkansas is 5-1 and hosts Conference USA favorite Western Kentucky this week.
The Gators have the personnel to turn Michigan State over and get this game into the open floor against opponent thanks ranks 277th (1.079 PPP) in transition defense. A track meet might snap KeVaughn Allen out his shooting slump and give freshman Keyontae Johnson some easy chances to attack the rim. What about Jalen Hudson, who is shooting just 24 percent from 3-point range? If the senior draws Joshua Langford, there’s a case to be made either way for a breakout. The 6-5 wing only allows 25-percent shooting on spot-up jumpers, but also gives up a couple uncontested shots each night. Assuming Hudson can spring himself free, he might be able to build a head of steam early on.
Defensively, the Gators match up well, but the Spartans will have considerably more experience with Cassius Winston running the show at lead guard. Unsurprisingly, Coach Tom Izzo also has a squad that hammers foes on the offensive glass. Ultimately, the outcome might hinge on whether Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes hold their own against Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins — a trio as formidable as any front line in the country.
THE DEEP CUT
At Rock M Nation, we believe in equality. There are quality hoops played in mid-major and low-major conferences, wells of rising coaching talent and potential Cinderella teams. As a true hoops connoisseur, you should see the players, coaches, and teams long before the spotlight finds them in March. Let’s get off the grid, shall we?
Harvard at Vermont | 6 p.m. CT Saturday, ESPN+
At times, this section serves a post-it note for me. A personal goal each year to watch at least half the preseason favorites in mid- and low-major leagues, and now it’s the Crimson’s turn to serve as appointment viewing.
Earlier games against Rhode Island (a two-point loss) and San Francisco (a four-point defeat) required online viewing. So, by default, Harvard’s visit to the perennial America East favorite becomes the selection.
On paper, Coach Tommy Amaker was slated to bring back all five starters — and 99 percent of his scoring — from a squad that edged out Penn for the Ivy League’s regular season title. Preseason injuries to leading scorer Seth Towns and point guard Bryce Aikens, altered that outlook. Then forward Chris Lewis was hobbled in a victory against San Francisco and has missed the past four outings.
Junior center Henry Welsh paced a lineup relying on balanced output in a victory over Saint Mary’s, where five players reached double figures in the scoring column. Noah Kirkwood, who was part of a deep freshman class last season, picked up the scoring load by pouring in 20 points against Holy Cross.
While Harvard’s undermanned, the Catamounts, who have only lost a lone conference game the past two years, are in the midst of transition. Four of their top seven scorers moved on, including two-time league Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes. Anthony Lamb, who missed 17 games last season, has filled the gap by putting up 18.8 points per game, while reserve forward Ernie Duncan’s nearly tripled his scoring output (16.0 ppg) as his minutes have increased.
The stability of John Becker’s program and the early success of Lamb, Duncan and Stef Smith make it safe to think UVM will again be in the thick of the AEC race. And at the moment, the presence of three reliable scorers might tip the scales toward them on Saturday.
Other games that should have your attention or eyeballs this week. They’re top-25 match-ups, solid high-major meetings, interesting SEC games and other games that have implications for low- and mid-major conferences. All tip-times are CST.
Dec. 3 to Dec. 9
|Dec. 3||No. 18 Iowa at No. 7 Michigan State||5:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1||56.6|
|Dec. 3||Texas Southern at Georgia||6 p.m.||SEC Network+||24.3|
|Dec. 4||West Virginia at Florida||8 p.m.||ESPN||73.7|
|Dec. 4||Indiana at Penn State||6 p.m.||Big Ten Network||68.6|
|Dec. 4||No. 5 Michigan at Northwewstern||8 p.m.||Big Ten Network||68.5|
|Dec. 4||Notre Dame at Oklahoma||6 p.m.||ESPN||63.7|
|Dec. 4||South Dakota State at Memphis||7 p.m.||ESPN3||54.1|
|Dec. 4||Lipscomb at Belmont||7 p.m.||ESPN+||54|
|Dec. 4||Georgia State at Alabama||7 p.m.||SEC Network||42.3|
|Dec. 4||Northeastern at Syracuse||6 p.m.||ACC Network||41.9|
|Dec. 4||Northern Kentucky at Cincinnati||6 p.m.||ESPN3||35.2|
|Dec. 4||Wofford at No. 2 Kansas||7 p.m.||ESPN+||32.5|
|Dec. 5||No. 24 Nebraska at Minnesota||8 p.m.||Big Ten Network||68.8|
|Dec. 5||Saint Louis at Southern Illinois||7 p.m.||ESPN+||51.3|
|Dec. 5||San Francisco at Cal||10 p.m.||Pac 12 Networks||45.4|
|Dec. 5||Washington at No. 1 Gonzaga||10 p.m.||ESPN2||43.3|
|Dec. 5||Temple at No. 21 Villanova||7:30 p.m.||Fox Sports 1||41.3|
|Dec. 6||Iowa State at No. 18 Iowa||7 p.m.||Fox Sports 1||74.9|
|Dec. 6||No. 22 Maryland at Purdue||6 p.m.||Big Ten Network||62.5|
|Dec. 7||TCU at USC||8:30 P.M.||Fox Sports 1||63.7|
|Dec. 7||No. 20 Arizona State vs. No. 6 Nevada||11 p.m.||ESPN2||60.5|
|Dec. 8||No. 10 Michigan State at Florida||11 a.m.||CBS||77.1|
|Dec. 8||No. 12 Wisconsin at Marquette||4 p.m.||Fox||75.6|
|Dec. 8||Clemson vs. No. 22 Mississippi State||3 p.m.||ESPN2||73|
|Dec. 8||Creighton vs. No. 24 Nebraska||5 p.m.||Big Ten Network||66.2|
|Dec. 8||No. 9 Kentucky vs. Seton Hall||11 a.m.||Fox||59.7|
|Dec. 8||Notre Dame at UCLA||9:30 p.m.||ESPN 2||57.5|
|Dec. 8||Louisville at Indiana||1:30 p.m.||Fox||56.5|
|Dec. 8||BYU at Utah||1 p.m.||ESPNU||53|
|Dec. 8||Xavier at Cincinnati||1 p.m.||ESPN2||52.8|
|Dec. 8||Loyola Chicago at No. 23 Maryland||2 p.m.||Big Ten Network||52.8|
|Dec. 8||Wichita State at Oklahoma||11 a.m.||ESPNU||52.5|
|Dec. 8||Ole Miss at Illinois State||7 p.m.||ESPN+||51.9|
|Dec. 8||UConn at No. 12 Florida State||5:30 p.m.||ESPN 2||50.3|
|Dec. 8||Harvard at Vermont||6 p.m.||ESPN+||49|
|Dec. 8||Western Kentuck at Arkansas||2:30 p.m.||SEC Network||45.2|
|Dec. 8||DePaul at Northwestern||11 a.m.||Big Ten Network||44.5|
|Dec. 9||No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 Tennessee||2 p.m.||ESPN||82.3|
|Dec. 9||Purdue at Texas||5 p.m.||ESPN 2||74.9|
|Dec. 9||Arizona at Alabama||Noon||ESPN||60|