“Sometimes there’s a man... I won’t say a hero, ‘cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”
Joel and Ethan Coen wrote these words back in the 1990’s about Jeffrey Lebowski — you can call him The Dude, his Dudeness or, uh, El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing — but I thought about them a lot this week when I considered Mizzou Basketball. Last week kind of sucked, and I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking that. Getting pasted is never fun, especially not when you follow it up with a home loss that drops you dangerously close to being in bubble territory for the first time in two months. Following that up with a third loss in a row would’ve been a truly miserable way to round into the final three games of the schedule, non-intimidating as they may seem.
But sometimes there’s a man... and I will say a hero, because I know what a hero is. A hero is a 5’10” graduate transfer guard who jacks a three in the face of an All SEC forward more than one foot taller than he.
The hero, in this case, is Nick Honor. Because without Nick Honor, Mizzou is staring at the bubble and in danger of losing a grip of the miraculous rebuilding job that has occurred under Dennis Gates in year one of his tenure. Without Nick Honor, the Tigers are still looking for their first 20-win season in a decade. Without Nick Honor, we don’t have a saturation of judicial memes in the Twitter-sphere. And while I could maybe do without the third, I’m glad I don’t have to do without the first two.
I don’t know that I could tell you any plot details about 2014’s The Judge a movie that I assume actually exists and isn’t just a CIA psyop. I think I saw it at one point, but I can’t be certain it wasn’t a memory implanted in my brain.
Here are the things I know for certain. First, if you google “The Judge movie” you’ll get a lot of pictures about Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall sitting in a court room together. Second, I don’t know of one person in my life who has seen this supposed “movie,” but I have heard pop culture podcasts reference it in passing (“oh yeah, that’s a decent movie”) before moving onto a quasi-related topic that isn’t The Judge.
In a similar way, I can’t be sure that this last week of Mizzou Basketball actually happened. The narrative for this year’s Tiger team is crystallizing — they’re a good team that probably isn’t quite good enough to get on a protected seed line — and this last week of games did nothing to change that narrative. Losses to two very good teams? Check. Hot and cold shooting portending the team’s fortunes? Check. Pulling out a win they had to have in the most dramatic fashion? Check. This past week served as nothing but another test case as to why Mizzou seems destined to live on the 8/9 line.
But we sort of need these weeks right? They ground us in the truth, just as The Judge grounds us in the truth that Robert Downey Jr. is charismatic and Robert Duvall is surly. Are we learning anything new? Of course not, why would we need to do anything like that? There’s comfort in knowing the facts, and sometimes you need a test case as to why they are, in fact, facts.
None of us will remember this last week of basketball (outside of the Nick Honor step back three on Tolu Smith, see more below), just like nobody remembers The Judge. But they serve a purpose, and it’s hard to fault them for it.
★★★☆☆ for the past week of basketball, and ★★☆☆☆ for The Judge, which I could definitely not list the plot of, not for any amount of money in the world
Every good team (in any sport) has an identity, a style they want to play, a pace they want to dictate. Dennis Gates wants to play fast and free. Mike Anderson wanted to play fast and chaotic. Cuonzo Martin wanted to play slow and deliberate. Kim Anderson wanted to play... I mean, I think it was basketball.
But there’s a difference between good and great teams, and that’s the ability to adapt. I think of pitchers in baseball a lot when I think of adaptability. What happens when your fastball isn’t humming like it usually does or the curve doesn’t have the same bite? Do you concede the fact that you’re going to give up some taters and get pulled in the fourth? No, you go to the changeup, spot your pitches and figure it the hell out.
This past week has seen Mizzou’s fastball success — or fast ball, as it may be more appropriate to this particular context — waver in three games against Auburn, A&M, and Mississippi State. Against the former two, the Tigers couldn’t adapt, and it led to their swift demise.
Against Mississippi State, however? The changeup was cooking against the Bulldogs.
On a PPP basis, last night was #Mizzou's best defensive performance (0.914) since Braggin' Rights (0.922). Offensively, it wasn't much to marvel at. MU only put up 0.943 PPP, but that was miles ahead of its outing in Starkville (0.756) a couple of weeks ago.— Matt Harris (@MattJHarris85) February 22, 2023
Playing defense? In this economy?
But it worked for Mizzou, whose cold shooting continued until Noah Carter and Nick Honor pulled the evenings most unexpected one-two punch on Chris Jans’ unit. And look, I don’t much care for rock fights any more than you do... and we’ve sat through quite a few of them over the past few years!
But there’s room to mix things up every now and then. And with the quality of defending we’ve become accustomed to this season, it’s actually nice to see these Tigers shell up and stop an opponent every now and then. Who cares how offensively challenged they are?
For remembering how to defend just as they forgot how to score, we’ll give Missouri two and a half out of five baseballs (just imagine a pitcher holding a changeup grip), which will surely confuse and bore anyone who isn’t ready for spring training to start.
Dunk Dagger Index
I’ve fully jumped the shark at this point. I sincerely apologize.
One of these days Dennis Gates will have a roster that dunks on fools. That buries fools. That baptizes young and old alike into the church of Mizzou. For now, we must settle with step-back threes and buzzer beaters. I’ve made peace with this path that we’re on. And so must you... because I’m writing this column and it’s the decision I’ve made.
Category 1: How difficult/impressive was the
Nick Honor is 5’10”. Tolu Smith is 6’11”. Nick Honor attempted (and succeeded!) a deep step-back jumper on a man 13 inches taller than he. The stones!
Category 2: What did the
dunkershooter do immediately afterward? (0-20)
Got back on defense, as any honorable point guard would do. That’ll win you points with the coach, but not with this judge.
- Category 3: How hard did the defender try to stop it? (0-20)
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Tolu Smith was playing lockdown defense on Nick Honor. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so far out on a guard that was much quicker than him. But when you pause the screen on the shot, we’re literally looking at a manner of inches between “Mizzou wins game 20” and “Mizzou loses third straight, is back on the bubble.” Smith is sold out on defense and nearly came up with a tip that could have cemented his case for First Team All SEC. A double-double on the road against a tournament team and the game-sealing block? Smith wanted it, but he couldn’t quite reach.
Category 4: Is there backstory between the
dunkershooter and the dunkeedefender? (0-15)
Nick Honor and Tolu Smith did square off in November 2020, when Clemson and Mississippi State met up for the 2020 Space Coast Challenge in Melbourn, Florida. It was a typical Tolu Smith type of game, with the then-sophomore grabbing a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double. Nick Honor didn’t play nearly as many minutes (16 to Smith’s 36), but chipped in 8 points and a pair of assists as Clemson took home the 53-42 win. Ben Howland ball, amirite?
- Category 5: Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? (0-5)
I’ll let Mike Kelly tell you...
Mike Kelly’s call of the closing seconds of @MizzouHoops overtime win over Mississippi State courtesy of @LEARFIELDAudio: pic.twitter.com/OR9KElBt2X— Mizzou Radio (@MizzouRadio) February 22, 2023
I suppose you can’t quite let out a “BANG” for a rattling three, but I appreciate that Kelly really rips that “r” on the word “rims.” We usually only give high scores for swishes, but if Mike Kelly can sell it then I can buy it.
- Category 6: How did everyone not immediately involved react? (0-20)
Quick walk-on check?
Yep, that’s Ben Sternberg and Jackson Francois doing a coordinated pose on the sideline. Very normal walk-on stuff.
I also want to highlight Coach CY, who looked like he was about to pass out when Honor put the shot up.
Coach Young leans aaaaaaaaaall the way back in his seat, his body slackening as soon as the ball rims in. Get the man some blood pressure meds.
Nick Honor’s step-back three was 76 percent disrespectful to Mississippi State and 100 percent disrespectful to Tolu Smith.
Superlatives and Awards
“Thiccer Award” for Best Crowd-Sourced Nickname: I see some spare attempts to recreate Thiccer magic with Nick Honor, but our very own Matt Watkins absolutely floored me late on Tuesday night.
All Rise.— Order On The Court (@DataMizzou) February 22, 2023
The Honorable Justice Robustest presiding. pic.twitter.com/M0nwdHFD3q
“The Honorable Justice Robustest” is god-tier nick-naming.
“The LinkedIn Award” for Most Successful Job Interview: Is it just me, or have the words “Tre Gomillion” and “coach” been brought up more often together than “Tre Gomillion” and “basketball player”?
Dennis Gates on @Tre_Gomillion: “He’ll be on our staff one day.”— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) February 22, 2023
To be honest, Missouri could use a hot head on the bench.
“The Dennis Award” for Evening’s Best Meme: I’ve decided to lean into the meme overload. There’s a lot of garbage out there, but at least a few make me chuckle every time.
This week’s lucky winner is Alex Wade for making the night’s most obscure reference.
February 22, 2023
Only one like? A travesty. Nick Hoult died for this meme.