Photo credit: Idahopress.com
Baring a major collapse, the University of Missouri men's basketball team is heading for the NCAA Tournament. In spite of Saturday's disappointing loss to Mississippi State and Wednesday's rather unimpressive win against South Carolina, the Tigers are still a consensus pick to get in the NCAA Tournament.
According to NCAA Bracketology guru, Joe Lunardi, Mizzou is currently projected as an 8 seed in the Western Region. The NET ratings, which the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses as one of the tools during Selection Sunday, Mizzou sits at 49.
After Wednesday night's win, Missouri is currently 18-6 and 6-5 in the SEC. This is the Tigers most wins since Cuonzo Martin's inaugural 2017-18 season. Now with 7 regular season games remaining, a 20+ win season looks likely, even before the Tigers hit the SEC Tournament in March.
So, the next question would be, how deep can this team go in the NCAA Tournament? Is it a Sweet Sixteen caliber team?
There are signs that say it is. There also are some signs they say they are not. Let's take a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of this current version of Mizzou Basketball.
Mizzou is an offensive juggernaut.
This Mizzou team, across the board, is the best offensive team in the SEC, and one of the best in the NCAA. Missouri leads the SEC in Scoring, FG%, FT%, and Assists Per Game, and second in Three Pointers. Defensively, it leads the SEC in steals per game.
NCAA stats support how good the Mizzou offense is nationally. It is in the Top 15 in Scoring Offense, Fastbreak Points, and Assists per game, Defensively, the Tigers are second nationally in Steals per game and third in Turnover Margin.
Generally, scoring hasn't been a problem for this team. As long as it three-pointers are falling, Mizzou rolls. We've seen this against Illinois, Kentucky, and Iowa State. However, in games such as Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Alabama, when the three pointers don't fall, the Tigers falter.
Is rebounding their Achilles heel?
However, it's the rebounding that may be the biggest problem for this team and thus prevent them from making a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, it's rebounding on both sides of the floor.
To start with Mizzou is the worst rebounding team in the SEC, and one of the worst in the NCAA.
In the SEC, the Tigers only average 31.3 RPG, last in the SEC, after LSU, who averages 34.5. In offensive RPG, they are next to the last in the SEC, averaging 9.5 per game. On the defensive side, Mizzou is dead last with 21.8.
As far as NCAA stats show, of the 352 Division I teams, the Tigers are 347th in Rebounding Margin, 340th in Defensive RPG, 235th in Offensive RPG, and 328th in RPG.
Comparatively, Alabama and Tennesse are the top two teams in RPG in the SEC, with Alabama as the best team in the NCAA, and Tennessee as the 7th best.
So, what do these rebounding stats mean? That Mizzou usually only gets a one and done on the offensive end. Meanwhile on the defensive side, opposing teams usually gets second, or even third chance points against the Tigers.
Still, even though Mizzou has been outrebounded by most of their opponents, they have won 18 games. This Dennis Gates-led team has proven, you don't need to outrebound an opponent to win.
So back to the original question.
Is the 2022-23 version of the Mizzou Tigers a Sweet Sixteen Caliber team? If the Joe Lunardi bracket holds up and MIzzou is an 8 seed, then they will be playing a 9 seed in the first round, and likely a 1 seed in the round of 32. A tall order to get to the Sweet Sixteen.
It would really boil down to which team shows up in the first two rounds. If it's the Mizzou team that showed up against Illinois, Kentucky, and Iowa State, then the answer is yes. However, if it's the team we saw against Alabama, Texas A&M, and Kansas, then the answer is no.
When the three pointers aren't falling, then this team has to grind it out under the boards. So far, against elite teams, they have struggled when forced to do this. Mizzou just doesn't have the resources to play this type of game against teams such as Alabama or Kansas.
So, no, I don't believe this team is a Sweet Sixteen caliber team.
A final word.
I don't want to end this piece on a downer. A Sweet Sixteen run would be icing on the cake for a team that has achieved more than anyone expected. No doubt, it's been a great year and good start for the Dennis Gates Era.
Nonetheless, it's been a while since the Tigers have seen the Sweet Sixteen. Many Mizzou fans may have forgotten what a Sweet Sixteen team looks like. We have to go back to Mike Anderson's 2008-09 team which went to the Elite 8.
Be that as it may, the season still has 7 regular season games and an SEC Tournament left to work on these issues. It starts Saturday in Knoxville, when the Tigers take on Tennessee.
The season doesn't get easier, but still, it should be an interesting February and March.