Following a 12-point victory on the road against Ole Miss, the Missouri Tigers will welcome the Iowa State Cyclones into town on Saturday, looking to pick up their most influential victory of the season.
Mizzou is no stranger to Iowa State, having faced the Cyclones during its days in the Big Eight and Big 12 Conference, but this marks the second consecutive year these two former foes will face off. Iowa State cruised to a 17-point win just a year ago but is just 22-81 away from home against the Tigers.
Prior to Saturday’s reminiscent meeting, however, Mizzou men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates and senior guard Sean East II discussed the team’s storylines heading into the weekend.
Alumni Weekend to Feature Throwback Game
Mizzou basketball, to the pleasure of all Tiger fans, unveiled that the team will wear their signature ‘Block M’ jerseys, an ode to their time in the Big Eight.
“We heard the fans loud and clear,” Gates said. “I truly feel that uniform holds a very special place of connecting our program with our fans but also the success that we’ve at the very, very peak.”
The Tigers will don the signature uniforms as a part of their Alumni Weekend, which will recognize not only the Mizzou athletes of past but also the managers, coaches and others who made the Tigers program what is it today.
“I want to welcome not just our players back but all of those people who have had a hand in making this place special,” Gates said. “We hope that if you haven’t been back in a while that you being back this weekend is a sign of you always being welcome back.”
To celebrate Alumni Weekend, Mizzou Arena is set to host a sellout crowd once again, building on the home court advantage that has blossomed under the Gates-led Tigers.
Between the nostalgia of a sellout crowd, a former Big Eight foe and the presence of alumni who will stand throughout the crowd, it appears that this game will feature yet another chapter in the first year of Gates’ tenure.
Tre Gomillion Projected Out, Others Continue to Shine
The Tigers will once again play without one of their key players, as graduate guard Tre Gomillion appears to be trending toward remaining out against the Cyclones.
“Right now, it’s a no,” Gates said when asked about whether Gomillion will take the court on Saturday.
Gates did refrain from giving a definitive answer, leaving room for Gomillion to potentially play, which would give Mizzou a full, healthy lineup for one of the first times all season.
Despite the projection though, the Tigers do appear stronger than in weeks past due to the continued emergence of junior forward Mo Diarra and senior guard Isiaih Mosley.
“(Diarra) brings a different dynamic to the floor,” East said. “We were missing that, so him playing now is just lovely and makes everything easy.”
The duo has taken the court by storm in recent weeks, playing large roles in the Tigers’ previous two games against Ole Miss and Alabama, respectively. Their breakout performances have given Gates an ability to roll out lineups featuring 11 or 12 players, a luxury for any team.
Mizzou also had the luxury of rediscovering its 3-point shot against Ole Miss, just days removed from an abysmal mark against the Crimson Tide.
“I guess pretty badly,” East said when asked about how badly the team needed to see a game where the 3-point shot connected. “Hopefully that keep going in for us.”
T.J. Otzelberger and Dennis Gates on Similar Trajectory
T.J. Otzelberger and Dennis Gates are no secret to each other, having crossed paths throughout their various landing spots as they both searched for a head coaching gig to jumpstart their dreams of becoming Hall of Fame coaches.
Both coaches, although barely into their tenures, have showcased their talent already, leading their programs to quicker-than-expected turnarounds that have ultimately gained the respect from those around college basketball.
For Otzelberger, it was turning a 2-22 Iowa State basketball program into a true contender in the Big 12 Conference in less than two years. The Cyclones have bought into his vision and responded with quite the storm, a remark that is starting to be seen in the Mizzou program.
After winning only 12 games a season ago, Gates has led the Tigers to an unexpected 15 wins in the team’s first 20 games, while also tallying a pair of signature victories. That success is reminiscent of Otzelberger’s turnaround and is the latest similar between the pair.
“(Otzelberger) hadn’t been given anything in his career, nor have I, and we sort of have had the same path of (having) to show people who we are,” Gates said.
“He’s done a great job, a tremendous job, of building a program. Not only at Iowa State...but also others when he was on his claim to become a head coach.”
Gates added that he recalls several instances where the two have come across each other at gyms in the early morning or late at night, talking about when they would finally receive an opportunity to become a head coach.
Those memories and the journey to the point where the pair stand today showcase their ability to develop a vision, find the right players to buy into it, and then execute.
On Saturday, their hard work will be tested against each other, giving the pair an ultimate test alongside their dreams of one day seeing their names in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.