The opening stanza of the Dennis Gates era. What a ride it was.
A young, largely unknown head coach from little ol’ Cleveland State brought in a host of former players and transfers to revitalize a dormant Missouri basketball program. Not much was expected of him in year one.
25 wins later, Gates established himself as one of the up-and-coming coaches in college basketball. After being picked to finish 11th in the preseason SEC Media Poll, the Tigers finished 4th in the regular season. His team was incredibly entertaining, played with visible passion and always responded when the going got tough.
An identity for this team was established early on. The Tigers would run the floor often, get their many shooters open and force opposing teams into plenty of turnovers. Their lack of size meant that they struggled on the glass, and the overall team defense was tough to watch at times. But their play style allowed them to pick up plenty of big wins, and perhaps more importantly, not suffer a true “bad” loss.
However, while the on-court success was great, the impact this team had on Columbia and the University was immeasurable. From the many sellouts at Mizzou Arena to the palpable buzz on campus, this team got the city fully invested into basketball for the first time in a while. The many great moments of this season will provide Tiger fans with nostalgic memories for years to come.
- Points Per Game: 78.9
- Field Goal Percentage: 47.2%
- 3-Point Percentage: 36%
- Average Rebounding Margin: -7.2
- Assists Per Game: 15.9
- Points Allowed Per Game: 74.4
- Turnovers Per Game: 11.1
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 16.9
- Average Home Attendance: 11,571
- DeAndre Gholston’s buzzer-beater vs. UCF
These are in no particular order because all of them involve roughly the same thing occurring.
DeAndre Gholston became a household name on Dec. 17 when he launched a shot from half court to take down the Knights. It completed a 16-point performance from the Milwaukee transfer, and it saved the Tigers from suffering what would become a bad loss at a neutral site.
The shot itself was just a work of art, and the ensuing reaction from the team was great to see. It also came at a pivotal time for Mizzou. The Tigers were fresh off a disappointing loss at the hands of Kansas, and they needed to bounce back with something positive before taking on Illinois.
2. Gholston’s other buzzer-beater, this time vs. Tennessee
Once wasn’t enough for Mr. Gholston. After the hype of his shot against UCF had appeared to die down, he decided to place himself back in the spotlight with a similar shot against Tennessee.
This one was important in a different way. The road win over the Vols ranked as the best win on the Tigers’ résumé, and it made college basketball fans take this Missouri team seriously. “Dree” also solidified himself as a big-shot maker or “Green-light Gholston,” whichever moniker you prefer.
3. Nick Honor STEP-BACK JACK vs. Mississippi State
To cap off the miracle wins for Missouri, the honorable Nick Honor took his shot at playing hero. In a game that Missouri needed to win following two losses, the Tigers found themselves trailing by one point with 20 seconds remaining in overtime.
Honor dribbled up the court and got a switch onto MSU star big-man Tolu Smith. Instead of attempting to take the larger defender off the bounce, Honor elected to step-back and drill a 3-pointer over Smith’s outstretched arm. Mizzou Arena erupted, and the shot halted a losing streak and began a five-game winning streak down the stretch.
More so than anything else, though, this was just a beautiful shot that was as gutsy as it gets.
Newcomer of the Year
D’Moi Hodge | Graduate | Guard
2022-2023 Statistics: 14.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.6 steals per game, 47.7% on field goals, 40% from 3-point range
Best Game: 30 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals against SIUE on Nov. 15
Hodge was one of four players that followed Gates from Cleveland State to Columbia. He arrived on campus as a known sharpshooter, but nothing could have prepared Mizzou fans for what they would see
The best way to describe Hodge is a flamethrower. Sometimes he’s turned off and ice-cold from the floor. But if he sees one shot fall, the floodgates can open.
After somewhat struggling early on in conference play, Hodge was able to find his groove towards the end of the season, averaging 16.6 points in the team’s final five regular season games. He carried the Tiger offense with his shooting ability at times, as he got this team out of plenty of bad situations with his tendency to catch fire at a moment’s notice.
Hodge also garnered plenty of attention because of his defensive prowess. He led the team with 91 total steals, and his ability to hound opposing guards with his quick hands made him the best individual defender on this team. To the ire of many, Hodge did not land on the SEC’s All-Defensive Team, but his ability to be a true two-way player should make him some money at the next level.
Most Valuable Player
Kobe Brown | Senior | Forward
2022-2023 Statistics: 15.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals per game, 55.3% on field goals, 45.5% from 3-point range
Best Game: 31 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals against Illinois on Dec. 22
There’s not much to say about Mr. Brown that is not already known. He’s been a mainstay within this program for years and is beloved by every fan. The Missouri faithful have had the privilege of watching him develop into an NBA player over four seasons, as his shooting and aggressiveness on offense have come a long way.
He posted those gaudy statistics and made the All-SEC First Team all while going up against bigger players. Brown had to play at the four or five throughout this season, but it did little to slow him down. He worked to develop his 3-point shot over this past offseason, and it forced his defenders to stretch out the perimeter. Thus, the paint became more open, and he could take his opposition off the bounce with relative ease.
Gates challenged Brown to be more aggressive throughout this season, and it paid dividends. At times last season, he was too passive for his own good. This year, Brown knew when he needed to step up for the team, and he delivered.
On top of all of that, the Huntsville, Alabama native was the Scholar-Athlete of the Year in the SEC, the first Tiger to ever win the award in basketball.
Brown suffered through some of the worst years of Missouri basketball to be able to go out on top. He will be known as a Tiger legend, and as was said on Senior Day, a “True Son of Missouri.”
Reflecting upon the year that was
This was everything Missouri fans could have wished for and then some.
Get the fan base inspired and behind the program? Check. Put an entertaining and high-quality team on the floor each night? Check. Be competitive in the SEC? Check. Qualify for the NCAA Tournament? Check.
With a guy who was fairly new into the head coaching realm and a team that had only one major contributor returning, there were low expectations coming into the season.
Gates was notorious for asking media members how many sellouts they thought the Tigers would have at Mizzou Arena this season. We always answered zero.
Nearly every weekend game in January, February and March were sellouts, and Mizzou Arena became known as one of the toughest places to play in the SEC.
The fan base is clearly behind this program, as Gates has provided Columbia with an above-average high-revenue sports team for the first time since Missouri football was winning the SEC East.
It got to the point where it was hard to tab any one player or coach as a fan favorite. From Tre Gomillion’s goofy personality to the students’ obsession with Nick Honor, they’re all beloved by the fan base.
Getting the fans involved was a major goal for Gates in year one, and that came as a result of winning. The strategic opening stretch of games allowed for a team of newcomers to get comfortable with one another and develop chemistry. That paid dividends later on, as the Tigers entered conference play with few kinks to work out.
Another impressive part of this team was the sacrifices the transfers made from prior stops. From Hodge to Gholston, nearly every transfer on the Mizzou roster took a hit in terms of points and minutes per game. To ask a Division-I athlete to sacrifice some of their production late in their career is tough to do. Many wouldn’t have opted to come to Columbia.
But every player on this roster knew that, in order to succeed in a high-major conference, the team has to come first, and they all would have to contribute. Every transfer understood that and went about their business with a smile on their face from day one.
On the sport’s biggest stage, Missouri certainly made the fan base proud. The Tigers played their brand of basketball in a Round 1 victory over Utah State, providing this program with its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2010.
Falling at the hands of this year’s Cinderella is nothing to hang your head about. As was the case throughout this season, when shots didn’t fall for Mizzou, they generally lost in blowout fashion.
At the end of the day, one feel-good story beat out another, and we will now all cheer for Princeton from here on out.
All season long, the excitement around this group of guys was palpable, and the moments they produced were incredibly special.
Looking Ahead to 2023
There are plenty of decisions to be made before next season comes around. D’Moi Hodge, Tre Gomillion, DeAndre Gholston and Ben Sternberg have all exhausted their eligibility, leaving four spots open on this roster. Kobe Brown, Isiaih Mosley, Nick Honor, Sean East II and Noah Carter all have decisions to be made regarding their futures at Mizzou.
As our own Sam Snelling pointed out, the initial assumption is that Honor, Carter and East II will return. All three of them have more to prove at this level and would likely take on even larger roles for the team in 2023-24 with their experience and skills.
It remains to be seen what Mosley’s future holds. A season of redemption after 2022-23 did not go as anybody thought may be in the cards, or it may be best for him to start fresh somewhere else. At this point, basketball may not even be in the picture for Mosley. That is between the man himself, Gates, and his family and friends.
As for Brown, every Mizzou fan selfishly wants him to return for one last ride in Columbia. However, he has garnered plenty of NBA attention throughout this season, and it seems like a great time for him to toss his hat into the ring. There’s certainly a possibility that he participates in the NBA Combine, receives his grades, and then returns to MU. Or, he could be presented with an opportunity that he just can’t pass up.
By no means will it be easy decision for Brown, but at the end of the day, he has to do what is best for him and his future goals. The man has done everything he could for this program and then some.
No matter who departs the program this offseason, the future is still glaringly bright for this Missouri basketball program.
Despite all of this first season success, there are many people that believe that the 2022-23 squad will be the least talented team that Gates puts out on the floor in CoMo. The 2023 recruiting class currently ranks as the best class Missouri has had since the Porter brothers came to town in 2017 (via 247 Sports rankings).
4-star power forward Trent Pierce headlines the group. The 6-foot-8 Arizona-native is the No. 19 overall power forward in the Class of 2023 according to 247 Sports and chose the Tigers over the likes of Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
Fellow 4-star Jordan Butler will bring some much-needed size to the table for Gates and co. The 7-footer out of Greenville, South Carolina may need to be put some pounds on to become a major contributor in the SEC, as he only weighs 195 right now. Butler chose Mizzou over Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and Georgia among others.
Lastly, Gates tapped into his Tallahassee coaching roots to land 4-star point guard Anthony Robinson, who could greatly benefit from playing behind the likes of Honor and East II for a year.
The main takeaway? The sky is the limit for the Gates era in Columbia. While the program will certainly not be taking anybody by surprise again, the raised talent level combined with Gates’ ability to develop players should allow it to continue to work like a well-oiled machine. The culture is already in place, now the key is maintaining it.
Missouri is well on its way back to college basketball’s elite tier. All while remembering the greats of Missouri’s past, Gates is beginning a new chapter in the history books of Tiger basketball.