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R.I.P. Mizzou Basketball 2022-23

The Tigers season ended with a dud performance, but don’t let that distract you from the changes made this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Princeton vs Missouri Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Basically every basketball team sees their season end with a loss. One team gets to win the National Championship, another the NIT, then a few other smatterings of post season tournaments, but really only those two truly matter.

The 2022-23 version of the Missouri Tigers was unlikely to buck those odds and finish the year with a win. Maybe if they made the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament, but once they made the Dance their fate was sealed. It was just a matter of when.

It happened in a game where we saw the version of the Tigers we’ve seen at times all season long. A team unable to make shots, a team unable to force turnovers, and in turn a team prone to getting blown out. We saw this against Kansas and Auburn, against Texas A&M and Florida, and against Mississippi State as well. But the good news was we didn’t see it all that often, just at a bad time.

This was one of the most enjoyable basketball seasons for Mizzou and Mizzou fans in some time. 2020-21 was fun, but weird because of the pandemic. 2017-18 was pretty fun, but rocky because of the off the court drama dealing with the Michael Porter Jr. injury stuff, even though it was great feeling relevant again. The first season in the SEC had some moments, but they struggled in conference play and fell flat at the end. You might have to go back to 2011-12, and we know how that ended, too. But as for the journey, this was the most fun season since 2012.

A team picked 11th in the SEC won 12 non-conference games, 11 conference games, earned a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, finished winning 25 games for just the third time since 2000, and just the 4th time since 1990. And they did all that without grabbing virtually any rebounds all year. It’s really amazing when you think about it.

Dennis Gates was hired by Mizzou Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois one year ago on March 19th. He quickly built a weird roster. I say weird because he relied heavily upon his players from Cleveland State to build the chemistry and set the tone. But there were no obvious stars inserted into the lineup.

Kobe Brown was Missouri’s best player the year before, but that team was awful. D’Moi Hodge had scored a lot at Cleveland State, but that was the Horizon League. Everyone else was a cemented role player. Necessary guys, but still not anyone it looked like you could funnel possessions to. Then in early June Isiaih Mosley committed to the program, and it looked like Mizzou had landed its scorer.

But Mosley was never a consistent enough presence to make a real impact. All Mizzou had to work with was a revamped Kobe Brown, who turned himself into a legitimate NBA prospect by becoming a dangerous three point shooter to complement his already strong bully ball game. And then D’Moi Hodge turned in one of the most exciting season-long performances by capturing the season steals record and hitting 40% of his three point attempts.

With Kobe and D’Moi, Gates built a top 10 offense nationally and a defense that was built around havoc. Mizzou turned opponents over on nearly 1 out of every 4 possessions, which turned out to be necessary since their lack of interior depth meant they were also one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. It was all or nothing.

That’s how they lived, that’s how they lost.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Remember BartTorvik’s GameScore metric? It’s used to determine, roughly, how well a team played. The higher the score the better you played. Here is Mizzou’s record by GameScore this season:

  • 90+: 10-1 (Coastal Car, Houston Chr, Illini, UK, @Ark, @Ole Miss, Iowa State, @UT, @UGa, UT, Utah St)
  • 80-89: 6-1 (Lindenwood, SIUE, Wichita St, UCF, vs Ark, LSU, Alabama - N)
  • 70-79: 4-1 (Penn, Vandy, @UF, MSU, Ole Miss)
  • 60-69: 1-0 (South Carolina)
  • 50-59: 3-1 (Southern Indiana, SEMO, Alabama, @LSU)
  • 40-49: 1-2 (MVSU, Texas A&M 2x)
  • 30-39: 0-1 (@MSU)
  • 20-29: 0
  • 10-19: 0-2 (KU, Princeton)
  • 0-9: 0-1 (@Auburn)

They were still beatable when they played well, because the defense was leaky. Just as a reference, 2 years ago Mizzou was 12-0 in games where their GameScore was 90 or higher. This year Mizzou lost at Arkansas, but was otherwise perfect. This is more about how often you play well, and what do you do when you play well.

Mizzou stunk in three games, and one of them just happened to be in the NCAA Tournament. You typically don’t survive when that happens.

Mizzou was capable, but they probably needed a GameScore of at least 70 or 75 to beat Princeton the way they played. Instead they gave a 19. It’s a sad way to end the season.

But outside of the ending, I’m not sure you could really script a better start to the Dennis Gates era.

So What’s Next?

A lot of decisions.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Utah State vs Missouri Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Namely, Kobe Brown. The true senior and four-year program player, Brown turned himself into an elite All-SEC level player. He’s also put himself on some draft boards. Nothing spectacular but many mock drafts have shown him as a late 2nd round guy. Kobe can return for a 5th year thanks to the COVID year the NCAA has granted everyone who played during the 2020-21 season. If Brown returns he would not count against the 13 man scholarship limit, either. With such a key component to the roster as an unknown, there may be a few other things put on hold until it’s figured out.

Brown could also enter the draft process and return to school, but knowing if Brown will be back or not might influence other decisions on what sort of transfers you might pursue.

Currently, only D’Moi Hodge, DeAndre Gholston, and Tre Gomillion cannot return. Kobe Brown, Isiaih Mosley, Nick Honor, Noah Carter, and Sean East could all return despite having played four seasons of college basketball. Early word is Honor, Carter, and East are all expected back. Mosley and Brown are welcome back. Mohamed Diarra, Ronnie DeGray, Kaleb Brown, and Aidan Shaw all have additional eligibility, obviously.

Then Gates signed three incoming freshman next season in Anthony Robinson, Trent Pierce, and Jordan Butler. Plus the committed JUCO Wing Curt Lewis. Here’s our trusty scholarship graphic that’s close to being right, we’re just expecting a few announcements from guys not on the list for next year:

mizzou basketball scholarship count 230125

I’m pretty sure Dennis Gates knows what he needs to fix with the roster. If we saw the big, glaring, gaping holes in the defense and on the stat sheet, you know he did as well. Mizzou played the way they did because it was a calculated gamble based upon the roster they had. But I don’t imagine Gates wants to be so poor on the glass, and porous on defense. They heavily pursued Jamarion Sharp last year, who would have provided needed rim protection.

So rebounding and rim protection are things Mizzou might be interested in this offseason. Butler brings some of that, and so will Pierce. But some experience in the post would be good.

As important as the transfer portal is this year, so too will be the 2024 recruiting class. Mizzou is in with some big time recruits, and guys who can step in and make an immediate impact. Names like John Bol, Jarin Stevenson, Annor Boateng, Marcus Allen, Dallas Thomas, and Curtis Givens. All top 100 level players. The portal is where you can find immediate answers, but nothing can replace getting elite talent on your roster and developing it.

Dennis Gates and his staff have proven something this year. They’ve proven they can win, they’ve proven you can play in front of a packed house, and they’ve proven they can develop players offensively in a pro-style offense. All of those things are important. Mizzou fans showing out this year has allowed the staff to hold recruiting visits in-season, and make players excited about playing there. But also playing in an offense that will highlight the skills that the NBA wants to evaluate.

In turn, the Mizzou Athletic Department stepped up and dropped a big contract extension and pay increase on Gates. He proved his side this year, they backed it up. Now it’s time for Gates and his staff to take it another step. Upgrade the talent, upgrade the play, and let's do this all again next year.

It’s a big offseason. Mizzou Basketball feels like it’s back. But as Ian Fleming said, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” You have to do it again.