It’s the most wonderful time of the year…
I’m pretty sure that song is about March Madness. Pretty sure.
Regardless, March is upon us, and the Missouri Tigers sit right in the middle of the NCAA Tournament conversation. After an impressive first season at the helm, Dennis Gates has a team with a résumé worthy of an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
As of now, the Tigers have plenty of key wins and have avoided the potential for bad losses on their schedule (outside of one fateful day in Gainesville). They are appearing anywhere from seeds 6-10 in mock brackets, meaning that there is still a lot to sort out before Selection Sunday.
At this time of year, metrics and bracketologists reign supreme, capturing the attention of the masses for one brief, beautiful month.
Mizzou In The Metrics
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index: 64th
Sagarin Rating: 59th
ESPN’s Strength of Record Rating: 16th
KPI Ranking: 30th
Quads 1 and 2 Record: 9-8
Quads 3 and 4 Record: 14-0
To sum it up, Missouri’s résumé (strength of wins, schedule, lack of bad losses) rates very favorably among metrics that weigh those categories heavily. The predictive metrics, which analyze how a team would fare in future games against other opponents, do not see the Tigers as as strong of a team as their résumé implies.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi: 8 seed
CBS’ Jerry Palm: 6 seed
Fox’s Mike DeCourcy: 8 seed
Andy Katz: 9 seed
Lukas Harkins (HeatCheckCBB): 9 seed
Bracketville: 7 seed
Rocco Miller: 8 seed
Bracketometry: 8 seed
Bauertology: 7 seed
Palm has been very high on the Tigers all season long, so he has the glass half-full perspective here. If the tournament bracket was revealed today, it would be safe to assume Mizzou would end up as a No. 8 seed, as that appears to be the consensus among bracketologists.
The Results That Stand Out
To break down Missouri’s résumé, I’ve chosen to group their results into four categories.
Had To Win:
Perhaps the most appealing part of Missouri’s tournament résumé is the fact it has no true “bad losses.” Surviving that opening stretch of mid-majors unscathed should have been expected, but with the newness of this Tiger squad and how teams were dropping like flies early in the season, it became fairly impressive.
Missouri put everything together early enough to survive non-conference play with no bad losses, and it consistently beat the SEC’s lower-tier teams throughout the conference season. To most, that means little, but a sign of a great team is when they can take care of business against inferior opponents. The Tigers did just that.
Maintained Status Quo:
- Loss vs. Kansas
- Win vs. UCF
- Loss @ Arkansas
- Win vs. Vanderbilt
- Loss @ Texas A&M
- Loss vs. Alabama
- Loss @ Mississippi State
- Loss @ Auburn
- Loss vs. Texas A&M
- Win @ Georgia
These games did little to move Missouri’s standing in the bracket. Some of the results affected matters more than others, but with Mizzou finishing 3-7 in these matchups, it is clear this team could afford to lose some of these games and be just fine.
The win over Vanderbilt has improved far more than anybody could have predicted, and none of these losses appear to be panning out worse than when they originally happened (i.e. all of those teams are in the same or better standing than they were at the time).
- Vs. Illinois
- Vs. Kentucky
- Vs. Arkansas
- Vs. Iowa State
- @ Tennessee
- Vs. Mississippi State
Now, some of these wins are not as pretty as they used to be. Illinois has had an up-and-down season since taking on Mizzou, and Iowa State has suffered while running the gauntlet that is the Big 12.
However, the road goes both ways. The Kentucky win appears far more impressive now, especially with its 14-point margin. While the MSU result was fairly recent, the Bulldogs are still fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth and are in a similar spot to Mizzou in most metrics.
On top of all of that, most major ratings are in love with the Volunteers, making that road win over Tennessee a shining jewel on the Tigers’ résumé.
- Loss @ Florida
The lone loss that you can point at and label as “bad” was the Jan. 14 defeat at the hands of the Gators. At the time, Florida sat at 10-7 and 3-2 in conference play with everything in front of them.
They have tripped, stumbled, and fallen their way to a 16-15 (9-9) record, and their NET rating of 58 classifies as the worst of any team Mizzou lost to by a 12-spot margin.
By no means is this a loss that many committee members are going to drop Mizzou a seed line for, but it does remain as a blemish on an otherwise fairly clean résumé.
Outlook for the SEC Tournament
Of course, there are still chances for the Tigers to improve their pitch to the NCAA Tournament committee. The SEC Tournament presents plenty of opportunities for quality wins, and it starts with a quarterfinal matchup against (in all likelihood) Tennessee. Win there, and the Tigers would reach their first-ever SEC Tournament semifinal, where they would likely meet up with No. 1 Alabama.
In my opinion, barring an SEC Tournament title, this Mizzou team cannot advance anywhere past a No. 5 seed. Making the championship would likely result in them getting to that five-line, with 1-2 wins moving them up to a No. 6/7 seed.
A loss in the opener would likely drop the Tigers into a more precarious position, with a possibility for them to end up on the 9/10 line.
For me personally, avoiding a one-seed in the first weekend is the goal here. Therefore, dropping to a No. 10 seed may not be the end of the world in this scenario. However, rising to that No. 6 line seems to be the most realistic goal for this team to shoot for, giving them a shot to pick off a three-seed.
More importantly than all of this is carrying positive momentum into the NCAA Tournament. No team has ever won the Big Dance after losing the first game of their conference tournament, and the teams that catch fire in said tournament generally maintain that later on in March.
For a team like Mizzou, momentum and hot shooting is everything. A one-and-done performance in the SEC Tournament would put a damper on the Tigers’ hopes and confidence heading into the NCAAT, while a couple of wins could inspire a deep run.
Missouri will hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Where that is, and how favorable the pathway is depends on how they finish the season this week.