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Mizzou Basketball Non-Conference is light on intrigue

It seems “Win Games” was the primary goal when putting the schedule together.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament- Missouri vs LSU Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you were looking for intrigue and excitement with the rest of the unknown non-conference schedule, what you found was a first year head coach looking to establish his program with a turned over roster and a whole lot of cupcakes lined up to be sacrificial lambs.

Yesterday, in a rather laborsome exercise, Mizzou Basketball released their non-conference schedule. The games we’d already known about were plentiful — Kansas, Illinois, Iowa State, UCF, Wichita State — but the games we didn’t know about were always likely to more of the buy-game variety.

There are buy games, and then there are buy games. Under Cuonzo Martin the buy games were largely tougher mid-majors from good conferences. Mike Anderson always got a bad rep for loading up on cupcakes early in the non-con, as he seldom hosted more than a couple sub-300 teams in KenPom. You expect a few “warm-ups” cooked into the schedule; after all Martin scheduled an NAIA school last year.

Mizzou is locked into a long term deal with both Illinois and Kansas. With good reason, those are both longtime rivalries and having those two games on the schedule is good for the program and the fan base. If Mizzou continues to play in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, there’s another tough non-conference game.

Then this year they play UCF, who was 104th in KenPom last year and replaces four of their top 5 scorers. Wichita State was 94th in KenPom, and is looking to replace their top four scorers. So two rebuilding teams from the American Athletic Conference, and the next highest ranked team (per KenPom) from last season would be Coastal Carolina at 155. It goes downhill pretty quickly from there.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Nov 7th — Southern Indiana
  • Nov 11th — Penn
  • Nov 13th — Lindenwood
  • Nov 15th — SIUE
  • Nov 20th — Mississippi Valley State
  • Nov 23rd — Coastal Carolina
  • Nov 26th — Houston Baptist
  • Nov 29th — @ Wichita State
  • Dec 4th — SEMO
  • Dec 10th — Kansas
  • Dec 17th — UCF (in Miami)
  • Dec 22nd — Illinois (in St. Louis)
  • Jan 28th — Iowa State

We’ll preview each team as the season gets closer, but the basics are that Southern Indiana and Lindenwood were not playing Division 1 basketball last season. SIUE has been in D1 since 2009 and their best year was in 2015 when they went 12-16 and finished 248th in KenPom. Mississippi Valley State has been in the dregs of the SWAC for years, and Houston Baptist has been mostly bad since joining Division 1 basketball in the 2008-09 season.

It’s not a great schedule. The strong parts of the schedule are STRONG. Kansas should be a national title contender again this year after winning the championship last year. Illinois will be one of the better teams in a tough Big 10 again this year. And Iowa State has rebuilt under new head coach T.J. Otzelberger.

But after the top tier teams, it’s just difficult to get excited about the slate of games. The excitement is going to have to come from the regime change, the different approach, a new roster, and some intriguing parts. The excitement is going to have to come from the coaching staff and their energy and enthusiasm for building something in Columbia.

It’s reasonable to get excited to watch Isiaih Mosley or Aidan Shaw play basketball, among others. The benefit to this Charmin soft lineup early is Dennis Gates will get to play a lot of his new roster, and get deep into the bench to figure out what works. But for a team that looks to be angling for a rebound, it doesn’t leave much room for error if you’re hoping to land in the NCAA Tournament.

I don’t blame Dennis Gates for loading up on wins, but I will take any staff to task when I see too many games which shouldn’t challenge them enough early, and can handicap their chances of getting an at-large bid. There are ways to build a schedule where you can nearly assure wins while still being a little more challenged. Slightly better leagues, slightly better teams. Maybe we’ll see that in year 2 or 3, once the roster has been built up a bit more. Until then, it looks like Mizzou should be 7-0 going into a winnable road game in Wichita.