In bouncing Utah State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Missouri also busted the advanced metrics, the algorithms, Jay Bilas, and other analysts viewed as the smartest guys in the room.

With Thursday’s 76-65 victory, the Tigers defeated Ken Pomeroy of KenPom. They foiled Bart Torvik. They shredded the NCAA NET rankings. They reduced the power of ESPN’s Power Index.

Going into the game, ESPN’s BPI had Missouri kenneled at No. 62 in the nation. Torvik’s model slotted the Tigers at 56th, KenPom had rated them 51st overall, and the NET was a little more reasonable with Mizzou at No. 42nd.

“There’s one thing in life that you sometimes have to be prepared for, and that’s the unpredictable,” Mizzou coach Dennis Gates said after Thursday’s win. “Nobody in the country, nobody in the basket world, expected, first of all, us to be here. The only people that believed we could do what we did was the guys in our locker room, obviously, our crowd, our fan base, those that have been by our side from day one. I’m extremely proud of the results.”

I love advanced metrics, and find them valuable in many ways. I’ve been a KenPom subscriber for many years. His model is consistently correct – and you can literally bet on his game forecasts and come out ahead. But the model had a bad day, giving Utah State a 62 percent win probability over Mizzou. All of these advanced-metrics paradigms tend to do the same thing: overrate teams that play in smaller conferences and dominate those conferences.

Mar 16, 2023; Sacramento, CA, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Dennis Gates reacts while watching game action against the Utah State Aggies during the first half at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


An example is the Mountain West, which houses Utah State. The NCAA Tournament selection committee seems to go along with the analytics, honoring the MWC with a generous allotment of spots: four last season, and four this year. And until San Diego State outlasted Charleston for a win Thursday night, the MWC had lost 11 consecutive times in the NCAA Tournament.

As for Missouri … Well, sometimes the human beings rise up and slay the computers. Heading into the tournament, KenPom had Utah State at No. 18 in the nation – 33 spots above Mizzou. I was impressed by Utah State’s profile.

But in the end, I tossed out the metrics and made a modest financial investment in Mizzou to win the game. And I wrote about this on Wednesday. Just two specific points:

This season both of these teams are prolific offensively and are terrific when shooting three-pointers. I wrote that if one of the teams had a terrible shooting day, it would be big trouble. Indeed Utah State made only 4 of 24 threes, or 16.7 percent. Guard Steven Ashworth hit 44% of his threes this season but misfired on eight of 10 against MU. Utah State was ranked fifth in the nation this season in three-point shooting accuracy. Missouri’s blew it up by tenaciously defending the three-point line. Utah State scored 24 baskets inside, but that wasn’t enough to offset its poor shooting from deep range.

I thought Missouri’s swarming pressure on defense would wear Utah State down – which would enable the Tigers to take control late. Indeed, Missouri rattled the Aggies into 15 turnovers, nine coming on steals. And Mizzou outscored Utah State 23-9 on points generated by turnovers. And after Utah State took a two point lead with 10:45 to go, Missouri zoomed by the disoriented Aggies for a 29-16 run the rest of the way.

I cited MU’s 7-0 record in close games this season. And those that have watched Missouri compete this season have admired their calmness under pressure during games that could break, either way. Missouri’s experience and poise were huge factors in Utah State’s late collapse.

“I think our philosophy is not blinking,” Gates said. “We didn’t blink no matter what the crowd noise was, no matter what the response or the plays that Utah State made. They’re a good team. They were supposed to go on a run. We’re a good team as well and we were supposed to respond. Our guys stepped up and responded. The big picture is this: our team is balanced, and I’m proud of the way we respond in adverse situations.”

It’s also nice to have the experienced leadership and talent provided by Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge. In the second half of Mizzou’s outburst, they combined to score 28 of MU’s 41 points. They combined to make 9 of 12 shots (75%) from the floor including 6 of 9 swishes on three-pointers. And over the final 20 minutes, Brown and Hodge combined for seven rebounds and seven steals.

MU scored on 50 percent of its possessions, and had an effective field goal percentage of 60.4 percent. As I pointed out in Wednesday’s preview, Mizzou was 22-2 this season when reaching an effective field goal percentage of 50% or higher. And for sure, the Tigers had to be sharp in their shooting to beat Utah State. No problem. Update that record to 23-2, because Missouri had an effective field goal percentage of 60.4% against Utah State – just about 10% better than the Aggies.

To go back to something I mentioned earlier … Utah State’s off-target shooting from 3-point range. Give some credit to the Missouri defense for that. Yes, some of this had to do with Utah’s jitters in shooting from deep. The Aggies missed all 11 attempts from three-distance in the first half, and that was a crisis of confidence for a team that specializes in shooting. Missouri’s defense had a lot to do with it. After the game, Gates disclosed his defensive plan: concede points inside by crowding the three-point zone to buzz and distract Utah State. When you can take away your opponent’s primary strength … Well, Gates is a helluva coach. And over the final minutes, when MU pulled away,the Tigers made it difficult for Utah State to make threes and twos.

Gates has guided his Tigers to a first-year record of 25-9. Mizzou has won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2010. If the Tigers can clear Princeton out of the way in Saturday’s second round, they’ll advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.

The computers were largely unimpressed by MU’s 11-point win over Utah State. KenPom moved Missouri up four spots in the national rankings, to No. 47. Bart Torvik moved the Tigers up two spots, to No. 54. And the NET kept Missouri in the same place, at No. 47.

I don’t think the metrics will point to a Princeton win, but Princeton shouldn’t be overlooked. Mizzou can’t relax now. They won’t. Princeton, a No. 15 seed, just upset No. 2 seed Arizona. Mizzou is a No. 7 seed, but the seedings don’t matter now. It’s already been a wild tournament, and anything goes. And Missouri has every reason to play hard, and play on, and move forward.

The preseason expectations for Mizzou were very low, and the ratings systems are still down on the Tigers. In a way, that’s part of the enjoyment that goes with Mizzou’s success. And at this point, the national ratings are irrelevant. Here’s what’s important: a deep NCAA Tournament that once seemed impossible is quite possible now.

Thanks for reading …


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