You want to know what kicks so much ass? Intrigue.
When’s the last time you were intrigued by something? I’m not talking about “interested,” or “attracted.” No, when’s the last time something intrigued you? Where it drew your eye and your attention to the point where you thought, “I need to check back on this, there might be something good going on.” In other words, the exact opposite of last night’s National Title game.
When both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ Polls released on Monday and Mizzou sat at No. 20 on both — after an uneven week that saw them blow a 17-point lead to Arkansas and barely hang on at home against a mediocre Vanderbilt team — I thought, “Oh damn, I think this team is for real.” And no, that’s not really the first time I’ve thought that. That happened when they smacked the putrid orange snot out of Illinois.
Maybe more accurately I thought, “Oh damn, everyone else thinks this team is for real.” The Tigers didn’t exactly play their most inspired basketball of the year last week. At least, I think that’s how you classify it when you forget that rebounding is something you can, in fact, do in a live basketball game. And yet after almost poo-pooing a lot of good will from the Illinois and Kentucky blowouts, Missouri didn’t move in the national media polls (though technically they moved up from 21 to 20 in the coaches’ poll). No, the old heads think they’re Top 20 material.
That’s a pretty good feeling. I can’t say I remember the last time a Mizzou team intrigued me. The 2020 team was fun in a, “I’m not sure this is going anywhere in March but at least they’re really tough to play against,” way. The 2017 team was fun in a, “I can’t believe they’re still doing this without their best player,” way. And the final few Frank Haith years were fun in a, “Is my hair on fire? I think my hair is on fire,” way.
But there are no complications with this team. Rebounding allergy aside, I can wholeheartedly take the bad for the sake of the good. I want to keep up with Missouri every second of this year. I want to see what they’re up to even when things aren’t going as well. They intrigue me.
And it seems like they’re intriguing everyone else around the country too.
I’ve been thinking about Mizzou’s depth for the past week or so. More specifically, I’m thinking about guys not named Kobe Brown or D’Moi Hodge.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved watching Brown’s development into a star level player. And I’ve been fascinated to watch Hodge go from a mid-major starter to an all-conference caliber player in no time flat. Having both of those guys play for Mizzou is wonderful, as they embody the blue collar spirit that so many fans resonate with.
But for me, much of this season has been about the other guys. Nick Honor, DeAndre Gholston, Noah Carter, Sean East II... the guys that fill in the gaps and provide the support structure so players like Brown and Hodge can fill the spotlight. And thinking about those other guys got me thinking about The Other Guys, Adam McKay’s underrated white collar comedy.
As the title suggests, it follows two cops — paperwork jockeys and low-level detectives — who provide crucial support when the lead guys have, er, an off day. I don’t need to give you the full synopsis of the story to tell you the day is saved because of the crucial efforts of the depth guys, etc.
Commentary on the crimes of the banking industry aside, I find The Other Guys to be an apt, if simplistic, metaphor for Mizzou this season. Part of the reason things have gone so well thus far has been the consistent production of these other guys. No one would confuse Nick Honor for a star, but he can at least
make persistent, yet somehow nagging TLC jokes help your team set the tone for ball control and keep things in line when they get chaotic. Noah Carter isn’t the dominant interior force you might want him to be, but his footwork and work ethic make him an ideal swing forward. Dree Gholston may be inefficient at times, but he gets the dirty work done and can provide the occasional moment of brilliance. And Sean East? He’s just there to provide some chaos energy.
Just look at the last two games as a case study. Against Arkansas, when Brown and Hodge combined for just 17 points due to some foul trouble, the other guys — outside of Sean East — were a tad lacking. But against Vanderbilt, when Hodge was stricken by the plague and Brown struggled for a half, the other guys (specifically Gholston and Carter) brought a lot to the table.
And isn’t this how we want our teams structured from here on out? While you’d love to have stars at every position, and a few on the bench to boot, all good teams will have role players. For Mizzou, a postseason berth could be contingent on giving their role players proper opportunities to shine when Brown and Hodge inevitably have bumps in the road.
★★★☆☆ for the week of hoops, ★★★★☆ for The Other Guys, easily the best effort of the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedic partnership, sorry Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2
As Sam pointed out in this past weekend’s Pourover, we should be comfortable with our shared reality. When our coaches start popping up in other coaching searches, something is going right.
Gone are the days of Norm Stewart and Gary Pinkel patrolling the sidelines, waiting for a sign from the heavens to hang up the suit and venture into their twilight years. I’m not saying it won’t happen again someday. But for the time being, Mizzou is a stepping stone program for coaches with big aspirations. You can live with that reality or you can run from it, but it’s reality all the same.
However, you don’t have to resign yourself to that reality any time it rears its head. So with only 15 games under his belt, it’s time to start thinking about Dennis Gates’ next contract.
The staff pool seems to be in decent shape, though I’m sure DG would never say no to some extra splash cash. The early returns from CY have been good (if unproven on the floor), and the near future looks bright with some of the staff’s high school activity. And while it’s a tad early to declare Gates’ tenure an unequivocal success — though he’s done about as good as you can do in 15 games — the coaching market moves fast.
So why not get the man locked up early? Who’s it going to hurt? At the very least you guarantee that Gates is around for another year or two — it’s highly unlikely he’d have left after this year anyway — and you further perception that you’re invested in the program!
A program that’s fun to invest in, I might add. Even when they punt on ever getting a live rebound, Mizzou remains a dynamite entertainment product. All they’re missing is an evolved Aidan Shaw who can create for himself and throw down the hammer on a guy once a game and maybe a dominant interior guy. But they’re fast, they’re mean and they’re clean-cut. Not much more you could ask for... again, except for some more rebounds.
For yet another fun week of ball (albeit one marred by a loss), I’m awarding Mizzou 4 out of 5 University of Missouri ballpoint pens, all of which could be used to sign a contract extension, Dennis Gates.
Disrespectful Dunk Index
Oh my god. Can it be? We have... options this week?
I’ve bemoaned the fact that Mizzou isn’t exactly a thunder-dunking squad. Their layups off of fast breaks are immaculate, but even the crispiest lay-up drill can’t communicate the emotion and the power — ultimately, as the name suggests, the disrespect — of a good, clean hammer.
But this week? We’ve got the pick of the litter. Let’s run through them, shall we?
First, we’ve got two different Aidan Shaw alley-oops to consider, one against Arky to tie the game late in the second half and one to push a first half lead against Vanderbilt.
.@noah3carter ⏩ @TheAidanShaw— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 5, 2023
Tie game at Arkansas! #MIZ pic.twitter.com/pRDwnwl6yQ
.@TheAidanShaw from @noah3carter #MIZ pic.twitter.com/Rq0iGb77NA— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 7, 2023
And while I’m all in on Aidan Shaw as Mizzou’s Dunker In Chief for the next few years, I think we’ve seen enough of those uncontested oops so far this year.
Kobe Brown’s put-back off of a flu-ridden D’Moi Hodge miss was hyped up by CBS Sports.
KOBE BROWN PUTBACK SLAM @MizzouHoops pic.twitter.com/Qm2R6iwJ5W— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 7, 2023
But to be honest, I found this less disrespectful to Vanderbilt and more of a pick up his under-the-weather teammate. It’s tiring enough to play with the flu. You don’t need people dogging you for missing layups like I used to in JV basketball.
I think our answer lies in another Kobe Brown dunk against the Commodores, one in which he left his defender on the travel bus.
Kobe Brown to the rim @MizzouHoops pic.twitter.com/YwXdAoqmKJ— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 7, 2023
My god, look at how flat those feet are. I think we’ve found our winner, folks.
- Category 1: How difficult/impressive was the dunk? (0-20)
Vanderbilt really was flirting with disaster here, huh? Letting Mizzou go four wide and putting seven-foot Liam Robbins on Kobe Brown? That’s coaching malfeasance.
One of the problems with scoring this category is that so many of Mizzou’s dunks come out of good shape. The dunks become a result of coaching and execution rather than talent and spite which, if we’re being totally honest, often make for better dunks to begin with. But it’s hard to fault Brown and his teammates for setting him up for an easy look here. I still don’t feel like we can reach into the upper teens, but Brown did the work to get himself isolated against Gumby. We have to reward him somehow.
- Category 2: What did the dunker do immediately afterward? (0-20)
Do you think Dennis Gates has an agreed upon, program-wide time that players can hang on the rim. I’m starting to feel like the Tigers have perfected the clockwise rim swing at a time of exactly 2.6 seconds. Go ahead and time it up if you think I’m kidding. And if that’s their two-handed team celebration, I can’t wait to see what one of them does once they finally get a one-handed jam in!
- Category 3: How hard did the defender try to stop it? (0-20)
Poor Liam Robbins, lmao.
Watching him defend Kobe Brown here was like watching Wesley fight Fezzik in The Princess Bride. One, a lightning fast rapscallion intent on taking the aggressive stance and the other a lumbering oak tree ready to be blown by. I suspect Liam Robbins knew he was about to get toasted because he turns to get back before Brown leaves the rim.
I can’t knock Robbins credit, though. Short of going up after Brown, he follows him all the way to the cup.
- Category 4: Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? (0-15)
Aside from the fact that Kobe Brown wants to put it on as many SEC squads as he can as revenge for the past few years? I can’t be sure. But that’s as good a reason as any. Petty, too!
- Category 5: Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? (0-5)
The ball goes straight through this time, but almost in a way as if gravity was sucking it downward. I’ve watched the tape a few dozen times and can’t figure out the physics of it. Five points regardless!
- Category 6: How did everyone not immediately involved react? (0-20)
I’m getting a little fed up with the straight-laced routine. I get that Missouri doesn’t do the most exciting dunks and the coach wants them to lock into their defense right away, yada yada yada. SOMEBODY SCREAM OR JUMP AROUND OR GIVE BEN STERNBERG SOME PROPS TO WORK WITH!
Kobe Brown’s dunk was 56 percent disrespectful to Vanderbilt and Liam Robbins.
Superlatives and Awards
Cognitive Dissonance Award: Seth Davis, come on down, you’re our big winner!
Last week, The Athletic’s Davis poo-pooed Mizzou’s start as an example of an OK team starting to unmask teams that aren’t as good as they first appeared (Illinois and Kentucky, namely). Then he decides that Dennis Gates is good enough to list as a high-ranking candidate to take over the Texas job, one of the highest profile gigs in the country?
So which is it, man? Is Mizzou not really that good or are they so good that their first-year coach is going to get poached? Make up your mind.
The John Sundvold Award for Best #20: There’s just something about saying, “yeah, we’re a top 20 team,” that’s satisfying isn’t there? Much better than “top 25” though I won’t complain about the latter.
⬆️1⃣— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 9, 2023
Up one spot to 2⃣0⃣ in the USA Today Coaches Poll!#MIZ pic.twitter.com/hAhVgnSSzm
Along with staying at 20 in the Associated Press poll, Mizzou is the consensus 20th best team in the country. Sunny would be proud.