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Mizzou may have finally figured out its starting five

After multiple games featuring different lineups, the Tigers have put out a starting five the past two games that have worked to start games.

Missouri guard Tamar Bates motions to his teammate Jordan Butler as Butler enters a game against Wichita State on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, at Mizzou Arena. Missouri took the lead early and never trailed in the 82-72 win. (Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation)

If Missouri ends up once again making the big dance in March, we will be looking back at a late-night text by Sean East II to Dennis Gates on a cold November night as one of the turning points of the season.

That text prior to the Pitt game resulted in personnel changes within Mizzou’s starting lineup that saw both Aidan Shaw and Tamar Bates inserted in the starting lineup.

Prior to the past week, Missouri tried mixing in names such as Caleb Grill, Jesus Carralero-Martin, John Tonje and Connor Vanover with East, Nick Honor, and Noah Carter to start games. But the level of satisfactory wasn’t met and this included disappointing losses to Jackson State, and Memphis while also starting slow at Minnesota and against South Carolina State at home.

With Bates and Shaw inserted into the starting lineup on Tuesday, it helped lead to a 71-64 road victory, that included a competitive first half start. Gates once again rolled out the same starting five (Bates-Carter-East-Honor-Shaw) against Wichita State and once again Missouri came away victorious, this time 82-72.

“The guys who started earned that position,” Gates said. “Nothing against the guys who did not start. They still had good practices, but I wanted to just keep the camaraderie of what we did last game and see what it would like this game.”

On Friday, prior to Mizzou moving to 7-2, Bates mentioned that both he and Shaw bring energy on both ends of the floor, a statement that stood on business through the opening minutes against the Shockers.

Considering the opponent, as Wichita State is a lot tougher opponent than the likes of Loyola-Maryland and Arkansas Pine-Bluff, the Tigers got off to arguably its hottest start on both ends of the floor. While the scoring was done early by Carter and Honor, the gritty work was done by both Bates and Shaw.

Missouri forward Aidan Shaw jumps to catch a high pass in a game against Wichita State on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023, at Mizzou Arena. (Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation)

Through the first five minutes of play, Shaw grabbed a pair of rebounds while dishing out two assists that led to 3-pointers by Carter and honor. Bates, on the other hand, was active with a pair of steals in that same timespan. The energy and spark by the Kansas natives helped Mizzou get off to a 10-3 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish during its seventh victory of the season. Missouri forced the Shockers into six quick turnovers before committing its first.

“The game was a game where I thought we shot out of a cannon, so to speak, and we were able to do that defensively, which led to our lead,” Gates said.

When Mizzou came out of the break, Bates kept the spark going by lifting the 10,000-plus off their feet with his third steal resulting in a slam dunk on the other end. Bates in his third start also put up four points and a rebound in 14 minutes.

“I thought that one steal with the fastbreak dunk ignited our crowd, and he was able to bring up ability out there whenever he was in,” Gates said.

Shortly thereafter, Shaw chased down Wichita State’s Harlond Beverly before swatting him for one of his three blocks on the afternoon.

Coming into Sunday’s game, the Tigers ranked second in the nation with 6.8 blocks per game, which ties Arkansas and is just behind Eastern Kentucky. Shaw is the team’s leader in that category as his length has him at 20 so far this season. The sophomore from Overland Park also grabbed five rebounds, second to Caleb Grill’s 10, as well as a team high plus-minus of 12.

“He played 13 minutes and ended up with five rebounds so you look at that calculation that’s one rebound every what? Two and a half minutes or something like that,” Gates said. “But analytically he met his goal. I want him to be a rebounding threat by rebounding percentage. So if you look at their efficiency rating, I’m not worried made or missed field goals, I’m looking at rebounds, I’m looking at assists. He had zero turnovers and three blocks which is tremendous.”

As Missouri is seemingly finding its stride, it seems to have finally figured out a starting lineup to help it get off to the starts it needs to have a successful season and it's translated into a pair of quality top 100 KenPom wins. The road doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers as it heads to “The Phog” to play Kansas next Saturday.