Jan 14, 2023; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Dennis Gates screams a play during the first half against the Florida Gators at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Location: Columbia, Mo.
Time: 1 p.m.
KenPom Prediction: 74-72, Iowa State
1 – Big 12 break
I’ll be the one to say it… I’m over the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The event has run its course. It long ago became clear it was simply an opportunity to set up Kansas and Kentucky with fun match-ups and everybody else could just get jumbled together.
Sometimes we’ll get a few good games, sometimes we’ll only get one.
It doesn’t have to be that way, especially if we’re going to play this event in January. If they want to keep it on this date, why not do a TV special the Saturday before and announce the match-ups based on current league standings or just in the interest of creating the best games?
Iowa State and Missouri is a fun old-school rivalry, but nobody thought either of these teams would be good going into the season, so they stuck them together for the second year in a row.
The Cyclones are going on the road in this event for the sixth time in eight years. Now, Iowa State hasn’t been great during all of those years, but how does a venue like Hilton Coliseum host two games in this type of event in eight years?
Meanwhile, Iowa State has made trips to Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and now Missouri. It just doesn’t make any sense if you’re trying to put together a truly made-for-TV product.
You won’t hear any of the league’s coaches say anything like this because they’re worried about more important things like trying to win the game.
“There are people in our league who make decisions in the best interest of our league,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “It’s not something that I have any say in so I focus on the things I can control. What I can control is to prepare our team to have the best opportunity to win the game on Saturday.”
Want to know how cool this event could be? Let’s look at some of the match-ups we could have put together if we’d waited to pair teams until shortly before the event:
No. 12 Iowa State vs. No. 2 Alabama: A battle of contrasting styles with two of the best teams in college basketball. A marquee college basketball game in 2022-23. Instead, Iowa State is going to play an unranked Missouri team while Alabama visits an Oklahoma team that’s lost six of its last eight.
No. 15 Auburn vs. No. 5 Kansas State: How did we really miss out on the opportunity to pit Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell and Auburn’s Wendell Green, two of the nation’s best small guards, against each other? The Wildcats will host Florida while Auburn visits West Virginia, neither of which are currently in conference title contention like Kansas State and the Tigers.
Texas A&M vs. No. 9 Kansas: The Jayhawks have their annual date with Kentucky, a three-loss SEC team, and that’s considered one of the freaking headliners. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is 6-1 in the SEC and isn’t even playing in the event!
I wish it made sense because I think the idea is genuinely a good one, but we have to be willing to go the extra mile to create the best games if we want to make it a thing in January like it is with every game on the same day.
The days of just highlight Kansas and Kentucky because they’re Kansas and Kentucky regardless of the on-court results need to stop.
Give us the best games we can get. Period. Full stop.
Are there logistics to work out? Sure. Does it make coaches have to work harder to get another win? In theory.
People get paid a lot of money to figure those things out. Coaches get paid a lot of money to do their jobs.
We don’t have to do it this way, and if we’re going to keep doing it this way, I’d much rather see the teams in the Big 12 get one Saturday off during the conference slate over going on the road to play Mississippi State in Starkville like TCU, the No. 11 team in the country, will have to do this weekend.
2 – Get out and go
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look toward Dennis Gates’ Tigers, who are vastly improved from the team Cuonzo Martin brought to Hilton Coliseum for this event a year ago.
Missouri raced out to a 12-1 start in Gates’ first year after coming over from Cleveland State. The one loss was a 95-67 loss to Kansas in Columbia on Dec. 1`0. They capped that stretch by beating Kentucky on Dec. 28 before we realized Kentucky might not be very good.
Since beating the Wildcats, Missouri is 3-4 with wins over Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Mississippi. They’ve won two of their last three, against Arkansas and Ole Miss, sandwiched around an 85-64 loss to Alabama.
The Tigers have had their success on the back of one of the sport’s best offenses, ranking No. 6 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Gates’ team plays at the SEC’s second-fastest pace behind only Alabama, and while this group did that with efficiency during the non-conference schedule, they’re ranked No. 6 in the SEC in offensive efficiency in league play.
This group, when it is on, is capable of scoring in bunches. They’re No. 6 nationally in team 2-point percentage, No. 15 in team effective field goal percentage and No. 29 in turnover percentage.
Missouri will look to get out in transition quickly to find the best look possible early in the shot clock. They’re willing to fire it up from deep despite the fact they rank No. 140 nationally in team 3-point percentage.
But, the Tigers’ performance earlier this week against Ole Miss shows what this team is capable of when it is on as they knocked down 16-of-30 shots from deep. Yes, of the team’s 56 field goal attempts, 30 of them were 3-pointers.
“Certainly fast tempo. They shot the heck out of the ball the other night against Ole Miss,” Otzelberger said. “They can play a lot of guys, a lot of different combinations. They’ll play fast. They’ll play with a lot of freedom, confidence. They can score points in a hurry. They’ve got a really good ability, especially at home, to score in bunches.”
The flip side of that is this team has the ability to go ice cold. That’s what happened when they played Alabama last week as they shot just 3-of-28 from 3-point range and lost by 20-plus points.
The offense is led by 6-foot-8 senior center Kobe Brown, who is averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He’s shooting 57 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and 77 percent from the free throw line.
Brown is efficient scoring around the rim and in the paint, connecting on 62 percent of his 2-point attempts, and is a capable shooter from deep as he hit on 48 percent of his 3-point attempts in Missouri’s 10 tier-A and tier-B games.
D’Moi Hodge, a 6-foot-4 guard who came to Missouri with Gates from Cleveland State, is averaging 14.5 points and is the team’s most efficient weapon, ranking No. 70 nationally in offensive rating.
DeAndre Gholston is a 6-foot-5 transfer from Milwaukee averaging 10.2 points and has scored in double figures in four of the team’s last six games. Noah Carter, a 6-foot-6 forward transfer from Northern Iowa, is averaging 10.1 points and is shooting nearly 70 percent from 2-point range in SEC play.
The biggest wild card of the group is Missouri State transfer guard Isaih Mosley, who was one of the most explosive mid-major guards in college basketball over the last several years, but has appeared in only 11 games for Missouri this season.
When Mosely is available, he’s the team’s highest usage player and he’s never met a shot attempt he didn’t like. He scored 19 points on 9-of-18 from the field, including 1-of-8 from deep, in the loss to Alabama then followed that up with 20 points on 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-7 from deep against Mississippi.
3 – A different defensive challenge
It has been more than a month since the last time Iowa State played a team as poor as Missouri is defensively on paper. The Tigers rank No. 194 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is the lowest ranking for an Iowa State opponent since Western Michigan on Dec. 18.
For reference, Iowa State’s opponents during its last eight games have had an average adjusted defensive ranking of 38.9. On paper, this is the basketball equivalent of constantly trying to break into Fort Knox for a month then being asked to sneak Doordash onto the court at a Duquense basketball game.
Missouri ranks No. 268 nationally in opposing effective field goal percentage, they’re No. 361 in opponent offensive rebound percentage, No. 279 in opposing 3-point percentage and No. 226 in opposing 2-point percentage.
The Tigers are allowing teams to rebound 37.3 percent of their misses this season. That is the worst mark by any Power 5 team in the country by a wide margin and it has been even worse in SEC play with opponents corraling nearly 40 percent of their misses.
The one thing Missouri does well defensively is force turnovers, and they rank No. 7 nationally in defensive turnover percentage. That is really the only number that doesn’t bode in Iowa State’s favor here.
Taking care of the basketball and putting together long possessions with good pace, good cuts, good screens, etc. will go a long way towards knocking this team out of their rhythm. Iowa State has to force them to guard in the half-court for the entire 30 seconds if necessary.
“Like all games, us controlling the tempo the way we want, us valuing the ball and possessions, us getting great shots and getting back in transition defense,” Otzelberger said. “It’s been a common thing for us. It’s going to be really important for us in this game because they’re at their best when they’re in transition.”