When Mizzou entered the South Eastern Conference we were told that they should just accept their participation ribbon for football, hoping for bowl eligibility while focusing on basketball. The expectation at the time was that the Tigers' basketball program - coming off a 30-5 season, a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and multiple Coach of the Year Awards for Frank Haith - would be a consistent contender for NCAA tournament berths and to make the occasional run at the SEC title either in the regular season or end of season tournament.
For a year the Tigers fulfilled their role.
They finished the 2013 regular season 22-9 with several tough losses at the end of games where a go-to scorer didn't exist (I'm sure you all recall the burden Phil Pressey tended to put on himself to finish teams off), earned a ticket to NCAA Tournament and once there, got ousted by Colorado State with the most memorable thing of said game being this guy.
The following year, Mizzou had a nice lineup on paper with the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, however Clarkson struggled to fit the role of a true point guard and the players behind him were freshmen Wes Clark and Shane Rector, who played like freshmen. The Tigers finished the regular season 21-10, made it to the second round of the SEC tournament and were subsequently invited to the NIT. They would beat Davidson in round 1 but lose to Donnie Tyndall's Southern Mississippi team. We all know how Tyndall's tenure at Tennessee worked out.
This is where the story gets...unpleasant and Mizzou falls completely apart. Frank Haith up and leaves for Tulsa in his nicest velour suit, Mike Alden throws not enough money at Gregg Marshall and Kim Anderson leaves Central Missouri State and takes his dream job at his alma mater.
Since that last Frank Haith team, Mizzou has won just 19 total games (none on the road), six in conference, over two years and most galling of all, Mizzou has not been invited back to SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Instead, they're left hanging out at the kid's table with three other teams that certainly don't care they weren't invited. Alabama, who doesn't know what basketball is, Mississippi State, who are thrilled to not have the Hump exposed to a national audience and USC, who can't afford to watch Frank Martin strangle his old boss on television. To call this embarrassing would be putting it mildly. Mizzou has a natural rivalry with 8 of the 10 teams in the "Big 12", and this would be a golden opportunity to force Kansas into playing Mizzou against their will, which whether you want the game back or not, would still be fun.
With this latest basketball indignity, I started to think, what could Mizzou do to fix this problem? I have some ideas that the Athletic Department and decision makers should consider. Without further ado, here are some things Mizzou could do in place of the SEC - Big 12 Challenge:
- The SEC-Almost Big 12 Challenge
Mizzou, Bama, State and USC could take on all the schools that have been openly pining and demanding an invitation to the Big 12. I'm looking at you Memphis, Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, Tulane and UConn. You want in the Big 12? Well this is the next best thing. You get to be vaguely associated with the Big 12, get another power 5 non-conference game on the schedule and if you win consider it an audition for the Big 12. Maybe they'll take you seriously, you never know. The games could take place over a weekend at the Sprint or Scottrade Center on a rotating annual basis with whoever is left out of the SEC side of the challenge taking on the Big 12 suitors until Texas leaves for the Pac-12 and destroys the Big 12.
- Re-Join the Big 12
Now hear me out, I know this is a bit dramatic, what with all the stationary and signage that's been flipped to the SEC, but it makes sense. We've had our moment enjoying our time in the SEC but really, our home is back in the Midwest (since you know, Mizzou is in the South now) plus West Virginia. We said somethings we didn't mean, and so did you Big 12, but we're sorry, you're sorry, let's just get back together. Going forward our blouse will most certainly remain cinched at the neck and our skirt firmly in place. Mizzou has a history with almost every team in the Big 12, they're familiar with the travel, and the conference clearly need teams. The goal is balance for the SEC-Big 12 challenge and we could bring Texas A&M along with us. BOOM, two 12 team leagues, match-ups for everyone and hey, Mizzou would instantly have 23 rivals, all whom can sports hate us with equal passion. This would also confuse the hell out of everyone involved and I think we all know chaos is fun.
- Re-Hire Frank Haith
One thing Frank Haith has never done?
Walk out on a job? Of course he has. Break NCAA rules? He's pathological! But, he's never missed an SEC-Big 12 Challenge! I know, this is drastic, but he has the chops. Frank Haith is undefeated at Mizzou in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, beating West Virginia not only at home but on the road as well, a place Mizzou has not won since Frank Haith era number 1. Clearly Frank knows his way around this challenge and is just the man to get us back into the mix. A coach returning to a job is not unheard of, hell Billy Martin managed the Yankees three separate times! Frank knows the area, could move back into his old house and he'd bring Kim English with him so there would still be the whole TRUESON qualification that is now a prerequisite to be employed by Mizzou (Odom, Anderson, maybe Vitello). He's just a phone call, potential NCAA investigation or player exodus away.
- The Micro SEC-Big 10-Pac 12 Challenge
You know what would really stick in the Big 12's craw? A game between Mizzou and Nebraska and Colorado. All three teams would face off against one another, each team playing two games on all three campuses over three days. The travel would be strenuous, but three games is better than one and everyone gets a home game, plus two road games against a power 5 team. They could all travel together by bus or air, kind of like they do in the minor leagues. Just imagine the style of play by day three! It would be like the NBA All Star Game, no defense and dunks for days. Aside from logistics, I can't imagine this not being a hit.
These are just a few ideas for Mizzou, I'm sure there are others, but honestly they're just not realistic. Fun, but not realistic.
You know what Mizzou has to do to get an invite back to this tournament? Put a quality basketball team on the floor, recruit well (maybe in the future throw an offer to the kid in state that just committed to Xavier), retain more than half of their roster on a year to year basis, stop blaming the past coaches or players associated with those coaches, stop talking about an NCAA investigation that hasn't truly hampered this team or staff in a real way yet and make themselves worthy of the expectations that were placed at their feet back in 2012.
Make yourselves impossible to not invite, and not just an afterthought in a conference that's already an afterthought in the college basketball world. For all the talk of history, the product that Mizzou has put on the floor the past two years is an embarrassment to their past.
Fix your house, Mizzou, fix it soon, this is not the way a historically good basketball program should be looked upon. In around a year's time the pairings for the 2017 SEC-Big 12 Challenge will be unveiled, let's hope that you're listed in the release.