The Missouri Tigers have a three-game winning streak going, and they’re doing it the Stormin’ Norman way. That’s right. I’m referencing Mizzou coaching legend Norm Stewart. His teams were tough. They’d fight you for 40 minutes … or for as long as it took to claw out a win.
Well, in his first season coach Dennis Gates has a team that’s developing a late-round, late-game desperation and determination that wears opponents down. Sure, the Tigers have been floored during several harsh losses. Kansas, at Auburn, Alabama, at Texas A&M, at Mississippi State. But even the best teams get rocked at times in this season of parity.
The three-game winning streak started with a rugged 66-64 overtime win over Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena. It was ugly and nasty and devoid of art. But MU survived a brawl of a game that it led for only 16 minutes and 10 seconds.
Next was the slow start at Georgia last Saturday. Visiting Mizzou trailed by a point at the half, only to run the home team out of Athens for a 22-point victory.
Wednesday, Missouri was left wobbled by LSU and slipped into a 19-point deficit, only to jump the Bengal-tigers in the second half to win by five.
Here’s the combined summary of Mizzou’s second-half blitzes at Georgia and LSU.
* In outrunning the Bulldogs and Tigers, 92-51 in the second halves of those wins, Missouri scored on an amazing 41 of 62 possessions – a rate of 66 percent.
* Mizzou made 56.6 percent of their second-half shots including 48.3 percent from three-point range.
* Turnovers in the second half: Missouri only five; a combined 20 for Georgia and LSU. Second-half points scored on turnovers: Missouri 32, with only five for their two opponents.
* Second-half steals: 13 for Mizzou and only two for GA-LSU.
* The Tigers’ veteran depth was essential in both second-half comebacks. In the final 20 minutes at Georgia, eight Missouri players chipped in for 45 second-half points, but nine had more than 11. In the surge at LSU, seven Mizzou players contributed to the 47-point total, and D’Moi Hodge led with 13.
At Georgia, Missouri went on a 51-18 dash to put the Dawgs away. At LSU, Mizzou sprinted by LSU on a 57-33 run. Georgia and LSU aren’t good at playing basketball, but that really doesn’t matter. Missouri was unsteady in both games, but had the poise and the maturity and the mental toughness to smash back.
And Mizzou can win the close ones, going 6-0 in games determined by a five-point margin. The Tigers are also winning conference road games. After losing their first three on the road in SEC action, Mizzou has won four of the last six away from CoMo.
The Tigers are upset proof, at least so far. This season they haven’t lost against Quad 3 or Quad 4 opponents, winning all 13 games. And they’re 9-8 against Quad 1 or Quad 2 teams. That winning record isn’t easy to do.
Missouri is 22-8 overall, and 10-7 in the SEC.
This is meaningful in two ways.
1. The 22 victories are the most by a Mizzou team since the Tigers won 23 in Frank Haith’s final season, 2013-2014. In the eight seasons that followed – through 2021-2022 – Missouri had a record of 105-145 for a .420 winning percentage. Gates’ current winning percentage at Mizzou is .733.
2. With a win over Ole Miss at home on Saturday, Missouri would finish the SEC regular season with a 11-7 mark. That’s a pretty big deal considering that, until now, MU had only two winning records in SEC play since joining the conference for the 2012-2013 season. And Mizzou hasn’t won 11 games in the SEC since their first season as a conference member. And in the last eight seasons before Gates took over, Missouri was a horrendous 63-115 in SEC games.
Under Gates, Missouri has the No. 8 offense in the nation according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. And the Tigers are 15th in effective field goal percentage, and rank fifth in the nation (defensively) in steal percentage. It’s highly entertaining basketball. After averaging 67.8 points per game in the previous eight seasons, Mizzou is averaging 80 per game in Gates’ first season.
When we put this into the proper context, this has been an amazing first season for Dennis Gates.
This is Coach of the Year material.
READING TIME, 5 MINUTES:
— No time for Happy Talk. GM Doug Armstrong won’t be able to pull off a quick turnaround unless he can dump salary by trading one or two of the Blues’ grossly overpaid and underperforming defensemen. As Stephen Ground wrote at The Hockey Writers site: “There is no reason to belabor the point: the Blues defense is completely broken, extremely overpaid, and totally nonfunctional. But as much as Armstrong might want to tear it down to the studs, clearly, no team can function without a solid defense. And the Blues have no clear answers on that front.”
— Absolutely correct. After this season the Blues owe Colton Parayko, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy and Justin Faulk a combined $70.5 million in salary through 2025-2026. (That’s an average of $23.5 million per season.) Leddy’s contract expires after the 2025-26 season, but going forward the Blues will owe Parayko, Krug and Faulk a total of $19.5 million in the 2026-2027 season. And they’re on the hook to pay Parayko $6.5 million per season through 2029-2030. These contracts will weigh the Blues down for a long time unless Armstrong can make some of them go away.
— This season the Blues have paid over $30 million (collectively) to eight defensemen, a cost that ate up 35.5 percent of the total payroll per CapFriendly. This season the Blues are ranked a horrendous 29th in the league with their average of 3.65 goals-against per game.
— Our Town’s Jayson Tatum struggled with his shooting in his first three games since the All-Star break. It happens, but it’s rare for one of the most consistent talents in the NBA. Over the three games Tatum knocked down only 36.7 percent of his shots overall, and made only 24% of his 3s. Well, the slump came to an end Wednesday during Boston’s 117-113 victory over visiting Cleveland. Tatum made 13 of 21 shots from the hardwood including 4 of 6 threes. He hit 11 of 14 free throws. He scored 41 points, pulled 11 rebounds and distributed for eight assists. It was a full-on Tatum performance for a 45-18 Celtics team that’s battling Milwaukee (45-17) for the top NBA record and the No. 1 seed in The Eastern Conference.
— This season Tatum has scored 40 or more points eight times, and he’s scored between 30-39 points in 25 games. Through Wednesday only three NBA players have posted this excellent combination of all-around play: an average of 30 points, seven rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. The three are Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luca Doncic … Tatum, who turns 25 on Friday, leads the NBA with 1,789 points this season. And since the start of the 2019-20 season only Doncic and Antetokounmpo have more points than Tatum.
— More praise for St. Louis City SC: MLS.com soccer writer J. Sam Jones placed STL at No. 19 in the league Power Rankings following Week 1. And that’s fair because City is an expansion team and must prove itself over time. But the 3-2 win at Austin was an excellent result that created excitement around the MLS.
“The new kids came to play,” Jones wrote. “Heading into one of the most hostile environments in MLS (against a 2022 Western Conference finalist) and exiting with a win is about as impressive an introduction as St. Louis could have possibly asked for. CITYPARK is going to be an absolute madhouse on Saturday evening for St. Louis’ first-ever home game.
— R.J. Anderson (CBS Sports) has Cardinals’ top prospect Jordan Walker at No. 6 overall in his Top 50 MLB rankings. Here’s what he wrote: “Walker has immense strength, resulting in the kind of raw power that could make him a prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger. In order to fully access that pop, scouts expect that he’ll need to continue to learn how to lift the ball more frequently — last season, more than 45 percent of his batted balls were grounders. (A point in his favor is that most evaluators believe it’s easier to train launch angle than exit velocity.) There was always a chance Walker would outgrow the hot corner, and the Cardinals have already taken to cross-training him in the outfield. Whatever position Walker ends up playing, his bat will be the main draw. It’s conceivable that he could become the latest young Cardinals hitter to take regular at-bats sometime in 2023.”
— Looking good: According to the excellent BartTorvik.com college hoops site, Missouri has a 97.5 percent chance of being in the NCAA Tournament and a 88% percent chance at receiving an at-large invitation.
— Let’s talk about draft choices. Armstrong did very well in getting a first-round draft choice (plus a likely third rounder) from the New York Rangers for Vladimir Tarasenko, the pending unrestricted free-agent winger who had only 10 goals and 29 points at the time of the trade. Vancouver received a first-round pick from the NY Islanders for center Bo Horvat, a younger and more versatile player who is vastly superior to Tarasenko. Horvat had 31 goals and 54 points at the time of the trade. In terms of draft-pick capital, Armstrong got as much for Tarasenko as the Canucks did for Horvat.
— And then there’s Patrick Kane. Chicago sent Kane to the Rangers for a No. 2 and a No. 4 draft pick. Kane has 446 career goals in the regular season, 82 goals and 136 points in 132 postseason games, and was a cornerstone for three Stanley Cup champions in Chicago. Once again, in dealing Tarasenko Armstrong did something that the Blackhawks couldn’t do: secure a first-round draft choice for a talent (Kane) who has a far more distinguished, productive and prominent career.
— Is help on the way for MLB teams that are worried about the imminent collapse of regional sports networks that serve as carriers for local-television rights? Could be. According to Front Office Sports, the newly created Scripps Sports division is “riding in like a white knight to the possible rescue of worried MLB, NBA, and NHL teams. The new unit, headed by veteran TV executive Brian Lawlor, is on the prowl for local and even national sports rights.”
— Lawlor tells Front Office that “our timing was perfect about what we can do to help solve people’s problems … in the last two weeks, some of the leagues are suddenly in contingency mode trying to figure out what happens if Bally stiffs them – and stops production in the next month. So we’ve had quite a few conversations with the leagues and the teams, just helping them identify where we can be a solution for them.”
— The Blues should gauge interest in moving forward Brayden Schenn while he’s still at an age (31) that won’t automatically frighten potential trade partners. Schenn is owed $6.5 million per season through 2027-2028. Playing at five-on-five over the last three seasons Schenn has an expected goal share (in order) of 47.0 percent, 43 percent, and 42.3 percent. And when playing at all strengths this season, Schenn has an expected goal share of 45 percent – the worst of his career since becoming an NHL regular in 2011-2012. The metrics indicate that Schenn is in decline, and he’s unlikely to get better as he ages. Beginning next season the Blues are on the line to pay Schenn a guaranteed $32.5 million over five years; he’ll be age 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36 during the aging sequence.
Thanks for reading …
Pardon my typos …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
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