Outside of the 2017-2018 season, when’s the last time you can remember going to a meaningful Missouri men’s basketball game?
That may sound like a rhetorical question, but it’s genuine. Think back to the last game you went to as a Mizzou basketball fan and thought, “Damn, this game could actually mean something come March.”
Go ahead and cheat the original prompt if you want to — think of that first year under Cuonzo Martin. Even with Michael Porter Jr. sidelined, that team played for a spot in the NCAA Tournament all season. Home games felt different that year, if only in their relativity to the wasteland preceding them. The energy felt different... especially in that opening game against Iowa State.
Yesterday, Mizzou released its non-conference schedule for the 2019-2020 season, a year in which the Tigers boast good depth and young, promising talent. Getting back to the NCAA Tournament isn’t a guarantee, but with the bubble getting softer every year, it sure feels as good a time as any to punch a ticket. By and large, every game this year will be meaningful on some level. Teams like Missouri don’t get the benefit of the doubt, so the Tigers need to win as many games as they can in as convincing a fashion as they’re able.
However, the announcement — while brilliantly executed by local hero Reed Nikko — did seem to lack some amount of luster, namely in the department of, “Games at Mizzou Arena.”
So the marquee matchup in Columbia for the first two months of the season will be... Wofford? Northern Kentucky?
Of course, as Matt points out in the attached Twitter thread, Mizzou seems to have traded an appealing home slate for several opportunities at high-level, NCAA-resume-padding wins. Games against Butler and Oklahoma/Stanford in Kansas City would all represent a bankable early season win, along with away dates against Temple and Xavier and the regular Braggin’ Rights game against what should be an improved Illinois team.
This is the goal, and that shouldn’t be lost in the discussion around this year’s schedule. Cuonzo Martin wasn’t brought in to Columbia to just attract fans — he was brought in to make (and win in) NCAA Tournaments. The best way to do that is to schedule and win tough games, especially out of conference.
However, part of the job of a head coach, like it or not, is to build (or in this case, rebuild) a brand. Part of that brand will always be offering up exciting games for fans to attend, especially before the going gets tough in the mid-to-late parts of the season. The above schedule, as appealing as it is to the NCAA Selection Committee, is quite unappealing to fans who may base their decision of whether or not to attend a game on how exciting the game might be.
That’s not at all a good reason to go or not go to a game — if you can afford it and want to support your team, then go on and support them. It’s also not anyone’s fault that the schedule turned out this way. Cuonzo and the program clearly thought this was best for the present and future, so they took the opportunities they could.
Maybe Tiger fans will show up and make this whole post a wash. But you’d have a hard time blaming them if they don’t get riled up over a Tuesday night square-up with Charleston Southern.