By: Sammy Stava
After a 75-61 win over Morehead State, the Missouri Men’s Basketball team finished off a record of 9-3 in the non-conference portion of their schedule. The Tigers went undefeated in the month of December and head into SEC play with a six-game winning streak, the longest winning streak in the Cuonzo Martin era. In his first two seasons as Missouri’s head coach, Cuonzo Martin is now 13-1 in non-conference home games. Here is a look at the key wins and losses for Missouri so far this season:
Nov 9th 76-59 loss at Iowa State: This seemed like a missed opportunity for the Tigers given the fact that Iowa State had four key players out for this game, but for a Missouri team still struggling to find their identity without Jontay Porter, a loss wasn’t surprising. This also wasn’t a bad loss, because after missing the NCAA Tournament last year, the Cyclones are bound to get back there again, and they could be a factor atop the Big 12 race when it’s all said and done. Not a lot of teams are going to beat Iowa State at Hilton Magic, either.
Nov 18th 69-63 vs Oregon State: I don’t know if you can call this a quality win by any means, but it was definitely an important win. After struggling to get past Kennessaw State 55-52, any win over a Power Five team away from home is good enough. We’ll look at this win that sort of re-gained their confidence early in the season.
Nov 19th 82-67 loss vs Kansas State: Just like last season in the Advocare Invitational against West Virginia, the goal for this season’s Paradise Jam Tournament was to get to the Championship Game (against Kansas State) considering how weak the field was. Jeremiah Tilmon only scored two points in this game, and Missouri is not going to beat anybody if that happens. Missouri probably wasn’t going to beat Kansas State, anyway. And just like Iowa State, not a lot of teams are going to beat K-State away from home, so this wasn’t a bad loss either.
Nov 27th 79-77 loss vs Temple: Temple doesn’t have the name brand like Iowa State or Kansas State, but the Owls (who were picked to finish sixth in the AAC) are 10-2 with their only losses to VCU and Villanova. It may not be considered a bad loss when it’s all said and done, but it definitely still hurts, as it was Cuonzo Martin’s first non-conference home loss at Missouri. This is the type of game where Missouri would like to have back and if they happen to be on the bubble come March, this one could come back to bite them.
Dec 2nd 64-62 OT win vs UCF: Central Florida was the preseason favorite in the AAC and even if they don’t win their league, they still may very well be NCAA Tournament bound. The Tigers went 1-1 this week against AAC opponents, and you would rather have the win over UCF than Temple. This is by far Missouri’s biggest win of the season so far. More importantly, Jordan Geist’s three-pointer to send it into overtime may have been a season-changer, because the Tigers haven’t lost since.
Dec 18th 71-56 win vs Xavier: The Musketeers were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season but haven’t been the same since. Chris Mack went to Louisville and they also lost Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. Going up against a first-year head coach in Travis Steele with the game at home and coming off an 11-day break, this was set up well for Missouri to win. Good teams take advantage of those situations. Who knows where Xavier will end up this season, but this still feels like a relevant win.
Dec 22nd 79-63 win vs Illinois: The Fighting Illini are probably better than their record shows, and any win in a rivalry game on a neutral floor can be considered a good one. This one really feels big, though. Ending a five-game losing streak in Braggin’ Rights has given this team some momentum and confidence heading into SEC play.
A record of 9-3 in non-conference with a couple of quality wins and no bad losses on the resume is a good sign of where things are headed for this Missouri team. Last season, the Tigers were 10-3 in the non-conference. Whether it’s the NIT or NCAA Tournament, Missouri has positioned themselves well for their postseason basketball hopes through these first 12 games.
Meanwhile, early indications have shown that the SEC might not be as deep of a league as last season, which may be good news for more chances to improve their record, but also bad news for fewer chances at quality wins.
Missouri will open up SEC play vs No. 3 Tennessee on January 8th, a 6:00 p.m. CT tip-off on 550 KTRS. Obviously, it will be a tall task for this team, but it will also be just a massive opportunity. A win over the Volunteers would singlehandedly get the Tigers back in the NCAA Tournament discussion.