I’m trying my best to keep this light-hearted even as the games are getting decidedly more serious.
In Sunday’s Pourover, I floated the idea that it’s probably fine if Mizzou isn’t the top 20 team they looked like a few weeks ago. Perhaps they’re just a bubble team being propped up by a weak non-conference schedule that needs some more conference wins to really seal up a place in the Big Dance. I stand by that statement. Even if this team is just fun as hell, I’ll take that to what we’ve endured for much of the past decade.
It’s hard to deny, however, that things are starting to feel a bit more serious. As teams scout Mizzou better and the games get tighter, it’s getting more and more difficult to parse the humor of each individual night. Luckily, Ben Sternberg and Jackson Reed-Francois are on the team, so we’ll never be totally bereft of shenanigans.
Call me George Lucas, because I’ve had Star Wars on the brain this season.
I can’t help it. The space opera matches the dramatics of Mizzou’s improbably turnaround. They’re the scrappy underdogs, not unlike the Rebel Alliance. They’ve got a charismatic - if sometimes a tad dull - leader. Then there’s the rogue mercenary who comes around when you least expect him. I’ll let you sort out who’s who in these various comparisons.
That being said, Return of the Jedi was on my mind as I watched Mizzou split their home games with Arkansas and Alabama last week. It was an uneven week, the dramatic highs fortunately outweighing some of the woeful lows. The game against Arkansas featured some magical set pieces akin to the Tatooine and Endor sequences that make the sixth Star Wars entry magical.
What really brings it to mind, however, is the triumphant return of Isiaih Mosley as Mizzou’s savior-in-waiting. Is that an unfair burden to place on his shoulders? Maybe. But one does not restore balance to the force by being normal. And Mosley is anything but normal, my friend. Even while struggling to find his jump shot against perhaps the best team in the country, Mosley poured in 19 points by reaching deep in his bag and pulling out the stops. You’d have to imagine he worked those moves up in the lab, hopefully one a little less moist and more well-lit than Dagobah.
It also struck me as fitting that Mosley’s return to prominence happened in a game that didn’t quite go according to plan, much like Return. It’s the weakest of the original three, in my opinion, due in part to the somewhat anti-climactic fight scene between Luke and Vader. I get that Vader is an intimidating menace, but you’re telling me Luke could slice him once or twice in that final showdown? Vader has the dexterity of a Galapagos tortoise.
Still, the return of Mosley feels like a notable addition, one that could end up saving Mizzou’s season, especially when Kobe Brown returns to the lineup. He adds something that no other Tiger, not even Brown, can offer, a special Force-like ability to put the ball in the hoop. Hopefully he finds his rhythm and can dispatch a few SEC rivals in the Sarlacc pit on the way to March.
★★★☆☆ for the week of hoops, ★★★☆☆ for Return of the Jedi, which needs less emotional development and more narrative propulsion via kickass sand dune showdowns
Is it just me, or is Mizzou getting slower? Too many trips to Morts?
It’s not all that surprising. After all, Mizzou’s offense lives and breathes the oxygen of a fast pace. Without the frenetic energy of turnovers and transition, the offense can tend toward stagnation, and opposing defenses have figured it out. The Tigers are having to depend more on their half-court prowess, and I gotta say... I can’t endorse it.
It’s not as easy as simply, “do what you used to do.” After all, Mizzou’s opponents are not out there simply to allow Mizzou to dictate the pace. By prioritizing ball security, working the ball inside and getting back on defense, Missouri’s SEC colleagues have been able to choke out some of this team’s essential oxygen. It’s not pretty to watch, especially when you have Dree Gholston bodying defenders down low.
But Dennis Gates has to figure it out somehow. Part of what made this team thrilling to watch was how the pace translated to these massive runs that would ignite the crowd. Yes, the Tigers still have the ability to choke a team out and put them on the back foot. But we’re not seeing the run-and-gun threes from guys like Nick Honor and D’Moi Hodge because, frankly, they’re being asked to do it on the bounce instead of on the run.
Mizzou is a good enough team to win games even when they’re not playing their exact, preferred style. But if they want to make a deep March run or two, they’ll need to get out a bottle of Mike’s Secret Stuff and put some more pep in their step.
Mizzou gets two out of five stop watches this week as they look to recover the speed of their game.
Disrespectful Dunk Index
Do you think the Mizzou team reads The Revue? I doubt it. But a blogger can dream.
Earlier in the season, I spilled a lot of digital ink bemoaning the fact that Mizzou wasn’t exactly a dunking team. We’d get at least one Aidan Shaw oop per game, but nothing else of substance.
That’s changed in the past few weeks. Kobe Brown is starting to find his footing with some down low, two-handed flushes that he’s so good at. D’Moi Hodge is finding room on the break for some great tomahawks. And now that Isiaih Mosley is back, I have to imagine we’ve got at least one or two of these tucked away in the files.
It’s a welcome development for me, the guy who has to write about precisely one dunk per week. I was sweating, more than a little afraid I’d have to find 15 different ways to describe the same Aidan Shaw alley-oop all season. Thanks to Mizzou for making my job slightly easier.
On to this week’s dunk...
The Tigers defense strikes again!!@Dmoi_VI ⏩ @TheKobe24Brown— Mizzou Hoops (@MizzouHoops) January 19, 2023
Timeout Arkansas! #MIZ pic.twitter.com/h3Zt28YgPn
- Category 1: How difficult/impressive was the dunk? (0-20)
First, we need to send our flowers to D’Moi Hodge, who makes this play happen. Look at where he’s standing when the ball is inbounded.
Hodge races over to intercept the inbound pass, setting up his teammates for the easy flush down low. However, he nearly jeopardizes his own brilliance by throwing a line drive at Kobe’s feet.
Brown corrals the pass and is able to jam it in Makhel Mitchell’s grill, but you have to admit the whole thing loses a little luster because of the botched pass. Still a good score for the steal and recovery, though.
- Category 2: What did the dunker do immediately afterward? (0-20)
Kobe’s got a new website for apparel (that our very own Madame Editor is credited on!), and I’d like to see him launch a new, branded dunk celebration. Maybe an undershirt with the URL? A bicep tattoo with the logo? Something other than just the flex and scream would be nice.
- Category 3: How hard did the defender try to stop it? (0-20)
Credit to Mitchell, man. He was not going to let Brown get this one off easy. He barrels in like a Tree Ent in Lord of the Rings — I’m just referencing all my nerd stuff today, aren’t I? — and does a terrific leap to pin Brown’s dunk to the backboard.
Unfortunately for him he gets a handful of glass and a sore hand to take home to Fayetteville. But hey, at least he’ll sleep well knowing he did his best!
- Category 4: Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? (0-15)
I get the feeling that Kobe Brown is something of a no-nonsense guy, so I can’t imagine he enjoys playing Arkansas and having to watch them execute Eric Musselman’s patented 12-step stomp-and-pout routine twice a year. It’s gotta feel good to put one or two on their heads whenever he can get it.
- Category 5: Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? (0-5)
- Category 6: How did everyone not immediately involved react? (0-20)
Once again, we get Ben Sternberg strapping in and venturing into worlds unknown. Look at him mean-mugging Makhel Mitchell like an absolute goon; I love it.
I also appreciate how Jackson Reed-Francois is flexing his twigs on the reg and, for some reason, does it with Dree Gholston, who had nothing to do with this jam? Shine on, you crazy diamond.
And while there weren’t any shining celebrations I could see in the crowd, I do always like the juxtaposition of rowdy college students and some folks doing a polite golf clap after a ferocious dunk (bottom right, which you can see in the above video.)
Kobe Brown’s dunk was 71 percent disrespectful to Arkansas and Mekhal Mitchell. And Trevon Brazile. (editor’s note: haha, please click that link)
Superlatives and Awards
“Get Well Soon Award” for the person I’d most like to give my ankle to:
“Anti-Hex Award” for person I’d most like to bestow a spiritual blessing upon:
D’Moi’s shot. Please.