March 22, 2022.
That’s the date the University of Missouri officially hired Dennis Gates as the new face of Missouri Tigers men’s basketball.
Looking back at the hire over nine months later, University of Missouri Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois appears to have made not only the best decision of the year, but one that may change the course of Tigers’ basketball history.
For those questioning whether this is the right sentiment to have, ask yourselves a simple question— When was the last time you were this invested in Mizzou Hoops? (Editor’s note: every year, but I get your point)
There is a buzz around Columbia, one that appeared briefly in the 2017-18 season when Michael Porter, Jr. took the floor but more specifically the feeling that all fans experienced throughout the 2008-2014 run, where Mizzou controlled its own destiny.
It’s hard not to stomach these feelings when looking at the box scores for these past two games, seeing the Tigers flatten Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game before quieting the normally dominant Kentucky Wildcats in a comfortable 89-75 victory Wednesday night.
Gates has brought with him something different than the tales of the past, however—a new style of basketball.
Perhaps the best description for this team is unpredictable, or energizing, or fresh, or deep, or just plain chaotic, but the point is simple—Mizzou is a much different team than before.
On any given night, a player can explode.
Against Kentucky, Kobe Brown continued his scorching-hot streak, scoring 30 points for a second consecutive game. D’Moi Hodge added 15 points, doing so in a quiet manner, while Sean East II and DeAndre Gholston added 12 points apiece.
Through four scorers, we haven’t even mentioned names like Nick Honor, Noah Carter, Aidan Shaw or even Isiaih Mosley. And yet, the Tigers continue to win.
Mizzou’s brand of basketball is not unique to one theme; instead, the team thrives on disorder and mayhem, turning opponent mistakes into easy baskets. Kentucky, a team that prides itself on disciplined basketball, turned the ball over 14 times, resulting in 14 Tigers’ points.
Even when Mizzou does not force a takeaway, it’s the sheer speed and tempo that comes back to bite teams. Late in the first half against the Wildcats, Brown found Hodge for a breakaway layup and-one, directly following a made basket for Kentucky. Before the shot clock had reached 28 seconds, the Tigers had tallied the basket with unbelievable quickness.
It’s those types of plays that embody this Mizzou program. Under Gates, the Tigers feed off miscues, play unselfishly and run one of the nation’s most up-tempo offenses. Those traits have made it difficult for opponents, with the exception of kansas, to stop Mizzou.
Yes, it’s only been 13 games, and the gauntlet of SEC play will likely bruise this bunch, beginning with a heated rivalry matchup in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Jan. 4. The success, however, speaks for itself.
Six SEC programs hired new head coaches following the season, including Mizzou’s hire of Gates. As a whole, the coaching hires look like a success, but let’s see how they stack up to one another:
- Missouri: Dennis Gates (12-1, 32nd KenPom, 40th NET)
- Mississippi State: Chris Jans (11-2, 39th KenPom, 26th NET)
- South Carolina: Lamont Paris (6-6, 192nd KenPom, 274th NET)
- Florida: Todd Golden (7-6, 48th KenPom, 64th NET)
- LSU: Matt McMahon (12-1, 76th KenPom, 75th NET)
- Georgia: Mike White (10-3, 99th KenPom, 132nd NET)
Atop most of those categories, Gates has looked the part of a potential SEC Coach of the Year selection and continues to extend the notion that he may be the best hire from this past offseason, at least in the SEC.
He has led the Tigers to one of their top-five starts in program history, joining the 1989-90, 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2013-14 Mizzou programs as the only ones to win at least 12 of their first 13 games.
An early-January SEC schedule that features two games against No. 9 Arkansas as well as contests against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and Florida will likely spell more doom to that .923 winning percentage, but the excitement is there nonetheless.
The sell-out crowd and packed student section in the middle of Christmas break against Kentucky showcases how bought in Mizzou fans are for the program this season despite the fact that hope and optimism can truly be a dangerous thing as a Missouri Tiger fan.
Despite that notion, it is important to look at where things stand now, at this point in time. Without an Isiaih Mosley and with quieter performances from players like Noah Carter and Nick Honor, Mizzou proved its still able to win high-quality games, including against a perennial SEC powerhouse.
The face behind this success is Gates, who was able to make these collegiate athletes buy in to Mizzou and becoming a Tiger. Together, they, as a group, have an opportunity to utilize this victory as the start of something truly special and to showcase to fans why this year can be considered the dawn of a new era in Mizzou Hoops.
Buckle up, Tiger fans. Threst of the SEC awaits...