It feels odd that I even felt the need to write this column. Maybe I don’t — maybe I’m letting the most fringe corners of the internet get to me. If so, that’s fine. I’ll learn to stop listening to them eventually.
But sometimes it’s hard to ignore the vocal minority. Despite remaking Mizzou’s roster — and maybe the program? — on the fly, there seems to be a contingent of the Missouri faithful that have a hard time accepting the flaws of this year’s roster. You may have noticed them by now. Rebounding comes as a bit of a challenge. The offense can rely a little too heavily on three-point shooting and turnovers. The defense is a more than a bit suspect You know, things that a lot of teams struggle with!
After Missouri’s 85-64 blowout loss to Alabama on Saturday night, I had a moment of acceptance. This team, lovable and fun as they may be, may not be the type of team that takes down teams like Alabama. Kentucky? Sure. Illinois? Of course. A hobbled Arkansas? Definitely! But when it comes to squaring up against the best teams in the country — the Crimson Tides and the (gulp) Jayhawks — maybe they’re a bit overmatched.
That’s not to say they can never beat those squads! Put a good team on a neutral court and anything can happen. But on an average night, Mizzou may be closer to program battling for an 8-or-9 seed than the 6-or-7 seed they appeared to be a few weeks ago.
And, as I’ve already noted, that’s more than fine! We’ve seen how roster rebuilds normally go as recently as last season under Cuonzo Martin, and in case you don’t remember 10 months ago, they don’t unfold like this. They don’t look like a team that not only withstands the absence of its most talented scorer, but plays well in spite of it. They don’t look like a team that accepts its greatest flaw — the genetic-level inability to grab a single, solitary rebound — and schemes around it. They don’t look like a team that’s been playing together for years despite only knowing each other for nine months.
We knew that at some point the Tigers were going to hit a rough patch or two. The shooting may draw closer to the median, and the frenetic pace may start to wear on the regulars. Small price to pay, I’d say, for such a rapid return to relevance.
It’s easy to point to other situations where coaches have done what Gates is doing, only at a higher level. Hell, Jerome Tang is doing it four hours down the road in Manhattan. The grass is always greener on the other side my friends, especially when you forget that for the better part of a decade your lawn has been dry as the Sahara.
Maybe Mizzou misses the tournament this year after such a strong start... but then again, maybe they don’t! Maybe they fluctuate wildly throughout SEC play, scraping by the lower teams, picking up a good win or two and getting dismantled by the cream of the crop. And maybe that means they have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.
That’ll be just fine with me. And it should be just fine with you too. Give yourself at least a year or two before thinking Mizzou needs a bid locked up by January 22.