A little Hoops news to sprinkle into your Wednesday.
While the entire schedule isn’t set, we now know a large chunk of the matchups facing the Tigers this upcoming season. On first blush, it appears the folks at SEC headquarters dealt MU a good hand — one that could produce 11 or 12 wins if circumstances break the program’s way.
Let’s make this more readable:
Home and Home Opponents
Permanent: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Rotating: Alabama, Mississippi State
We know each year Missouri is going to play Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M at home and on the road. The SEC’s unbalanced schedule, though, can make the other pair of home-and-home matchups dicey. This season, the Tigers drew the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs.
- Arkansas’ backcourt might be underrated, and new coach Eric Musselman has been active on the transfer market, bringing in five new faces. However, he’s at least two over the scholarship limit, so it’ll be interesting what roster moves the Hogs make moving forward.
- Texas A&M should be better just with improved coaching, but Buzz Williams wasn’t gifted a stellar roster — outside of Savion Flagg — to begin his tenure. Expect some early struggles in College Station.
- Nate Oates is a good hire in Tuscaloosa, and the Tide aren’t lacking for talent. Yet the frontcourt has question marks, and it’s not a given that his scheme will suddenly overhaul an offense that was inconsistent last year. Bama will be good, but not quite elite given a few roster holes still in place.
- Ben Howland is thankful Reggie Perry decided to return to school, but losing Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters to the professional ranks should cause a bit of a dip for the Bulldogs. The departure of Aric Holman also saps the Bulldogs of a matchup wrinkle. Some slippage should be expected.
- Ole Miss surprised a lot of people last year, but they won’t have the luxury of sneaking up on anyone this year. They have both Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler back in the fold, but losing Terence Davis weakens their attack.
Road Only Opponents
LSU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
When the road opponents are revealed, you want at least a couple of those games to look winnable. Fortune favored Missouri.
- LSU is a really interesting case study right now. It’s obvious coach Will Wade cheated his backside off to put that roster together, and the Tigers are without Tremont Waters and Naz Reid. Yet four members of a top-five recruiting class are back to go with five-star Trendon Watford, who committed to LSU last weak. If Wade has a job, and players are eligible to participate, LSU will be tough to beat.
- Kentucky is, well, Kentucky. Players are also starting to stay more than a season, too. The ‘Cats bring back Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards. Toss in a top-tier recruiting class and the best graduate transfer on the market (Nate Sestina), and you can see the challenge awaiting at Rupp Arena.
- Frank Martin was rumored to be involved in a few different coaching searches but stayed in Columbia-East. He got some good news that A.J. Lawson is returning to school after flirting with the NBA, but the Gamecocks don’t have a lot of help after losing Chris Silva and Hassani Gravett to graduation.
- Vanderbilt is going to be in full rebuild mode. I like the Jerry Stackhouse hire because it’s out of the box. But Stack isn’t dealing with a full deck just yet. The Tigers should be able to steal this game.
Home Only Opponents
Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee
Home wins against NCAA tournament teams are the foundation of the tournament resume. So when the schedule comes out, you want to see some tough (but winnable) tilts on the docket for Mizzou Arena. Again, the SEC delivered.
- I love what Tom Crean is doing in Athens, but the loss of Nic Claxton to the NBA dealt a blow to the interior of the Bulldogs scheme. A massive influx of perimeter talent Georgia should make this group fun to watch — even if they are a little erratic in the win-loss column.
- Mike White has had two really unbelievable recruiting classes and has cycled the last of the Billy Donovan era out. I’m still not sure what to make of the Gators, but with so much youth, they might be ripe for the picking with Mizzou getting this game at home.
- Auburn had a tremendous season last year, but sniper Bryce Brown is gone. So is pace-pushing pest Jared Harper. And their do-it-all forward Chuma Okeke. With so much turnover, I expect Bruce Pearl’s program to take a little step back next year, but an NCAA tournament bid could be in the cards. A win would still likely land in Quadrant 1 on the team sheet.
- Tennessee finds itself in a similar place like Auburn. Gone is two time SEC player of the Year Grant Williams and the Robin to his Batman in Admiral Schofield. Those losses could be expected, but seeing Jordan Bone (rightfully) depart after raising his stock is notable, too. Meanwhile, Rick Barnes flirted with UCLA and got a big new contract in Knoxville (on top of hiring former MU great Kim English), so the expectations have been elevated, despite the talent on the team being a step behind.
Later in the week, Matt Harris will have an update to his SEC post-season piece with all the early-entry decisions made. We now know more about what each team is going to have as the offseason workouts start up soon.
But here’s my quick reaction: this is the exact schedule Mizzou needs to have a bounce-back season.
The coaching staff quietly really likes the team they have, and most of us here feel they weren’t very far away from being on the NCAA tournament bubble or in the NIT last year. The continuity of the roster and a slight infusion of talent in the right places could give Martin and his crew the boost they need.
If you’re a fan of analytic projections, Bart Torvik’s projections for 2020 right now have Missouri third in the SEC. I think that’s a little high, but with this schedule, you can envision I Mizzou winning 10 games or more — a tally that should be enough to help them finish in the upper half of the SEC standings.
As for the non-conference schedule, we likely know the highlights. After reportedly pushing its return game back a year, Utah could venture east to Columbia. Meanwhile, MU has its own road trip booked to face Xavier. There are also three neutral court tilts that we know about. Two will be in Kansas City over Thanksgiving weekend at the Hall of Fame Classic, which features Oklahoma, Butler and Stanford. And we all know about the annual clash with Illinois in St. Louis.
Finally, MU seems destined to take part in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, which usually falls in January. Depending on the pairings, the Tigers could have marquee non-conference game sandwiched into the front half of its conference slate.
All together, Mizzou has six games against high-major opponents sprinkled across its non-conference schedule. Now, maybe they add another game against a top-drawer mid-major, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see those final six to seven slots filled out with buy games.
Work in Progress | Potential 2019-2020 Basketball Schedule
|SEC-Big 12 Challenge||-||-||-|
|Mississippi State||Home, Road||21||23-11|
|Ole Miss||Home, Road||42||20-13|
|Texas A&M||Home, Road||80||14-18|