Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Missouri (#1)

Yeah, this is a big one. The Missouri Tigers are 6-0, #12 in the nation, and own wins over KenPom #17 Oregon (83-75) and #6 Illinois (81-78). Tennessee has yet to play an opponent who’s looked this good yet, though Colorado has come pretty close. For all intents and purposes, this is the premier game of SEC Basketball this winter, as Tennessee and Missouri look to be the SEC’s two best teams. Obviously, the conference has reacted appropriately by putting this game at 9 PM on a Wednesday night on SEC Network, opposite the Cotton Bowl where the #7 and #6 college football teams play each other.

Anyway, all of the things you already know – Cuonzo Martin used to coach Tennessee, they made the Sweet Sixteen once, things didn’t end so well – are mostly covered on the following pages. There’s a lot of words to come, but here’s the basics you need to know:

  • Missouri’s had four fantastic performances (Oral Roberts, Oregon, Wichita State, Illinois) and two…fine-ish ones (Liberty, Bradley).
  • This is Tennessee’s closest projected game of the SEC season, per Bart Torvik.
  • Tennessee has topped 1.25 PPP offensively in four straight games; Missouri hasn’t allowed an opponent to top 1.056.
  • Tennessee has held all six opponents below a point per possession on defense; Missouri has gotten to at least 1.066 PPP in five of six games.
  • This is, uh, important.

The below section is game information to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: #12 Missouri (6-0).
  • THE TIME: 9:00 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: SEC Network.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -3 or -3.5, depending on where you look.

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NEXT PAGE: THE CUONZONE

Show Me My Opponent: Missouri

Do you like excitement? Do you like basketball? Do you like exciting basketball? If you like any or all of those three things, I’m not sure Missouri basketball should be your program of choice. Not just currently, but, like, historically. It’s hard to name a less-interesting two-time Elite Eight participant over the last 20 years. The best Missouri team in my lifetime lost to Norfolk State in the Round of 64; just one of the last six Missouri teams has even ranked in the top 100 of KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings. Not great, Bob.

However, in maintaining my focus away from the current team, it would indeed be fun to talk about said best Missouri team of my lifetime. The 2011-12 Tigers ranked #1 by nearly three full points in offensive efficiency; they played no defense at all, ranking outside of KenPom’s top 100 in defensive efficiency. They were coached by Frank Haith, who by this point is probably more famous for a wide variety of NCAA violations than anything he’s done outside of this one spectacular season. They had a seven-man rotation and no future NBA players of note, though they did provide Tennessee with current assistant Kim English. And let me tell ya: they were the most fun team to watch in America that season alongside Creighton.

It’s one thing to be an elite two-point team; it’s another entirely to be elite from three, too. Missouri did both, and they did it with great fervor. They started 14-0, beat Kansas in an instant classic, lost to Kansas in an instant classic, and then won the Big 12 Conference Tournament with ease over future Elite Eight participant Baylor. I remember Missouri being a popular Final Four pick and being baffled, entirely because they easily had the worst defense of any top-four seed in the Tournament. But who cared? They were insane and stupid and a total blast.

And then came Norfolk State.

Prior to this exact moment, the 2012 NCAA Tournament had largely sucked. The two upsets on Day One were a very boring 12-over-5 (VCU over Wichita State) and UNLV blowing it to Colorado in an 11-over-6. The best game was probably an upset that didn’t happen, UNC Asheville/Syracuse, which came ultra-close to being the first-ever 16-over-1. Day Two sucked to start, with several unmemorable games. And then, out of absolutely nowhere, came what is now the second-biggest upset in the history of the Tournament. I remember watching this at an Applebee’s, silently rooting for both teams at once, simply because I couldn’t quit the Missouri offense.

As dumb as the Frank Haith era was, I wonder if Mizzou fans would happily run it back, warts and all. Three years of Cuonzo have brought the Tigers a 15-22 SEC record and zero NCAA Tournament wins; at least Haith brought a hilariously good offense. Cuonzo’s teams can’t stop turning it over, ever, and can’t shoot a basketball anymore. This program hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since I was a junior in high school, and it feels like it would take a 51-48 barf tornado to win one now.

NEXT PAGE: “Tougher breed”