Dennis Gates approached the student section after Missouri blew up #12 Iowa State. He waved his arms and urged the crowd to roar one last time.
What else was he supposed to do after a key win for the NCAA Tournament to resume?
“It was a tough, tough game,” Gates said. “That team (Iowa State) is awesome.”
Missouri was even better on Saturday. It was a game that also bolsters the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament resumption in a healthy way.
Missouri is listed as the No. 1 seed. 9 according to ESPN’s “Bracketology” as of Saturday afternoon. Last week, the Tigers were scheduled to play the Midwest region in Des Moines, Iowa, in the same state quadrant as Kansas and on the same site as Kansas.
On Saturday morning, the Tigers were in Birmingham, Alabama in the West Region. Expect seeding to jump in upcoming showings after winning two games this week, including against Iowa State on Saturday.
That win adds to MU’s résumé, which already includes wins over Kentucky, Illinois and Arkansas. The ISU win counts as a “Quad 1” win, as NET rankings divide teams into four quadrants, with Arkansas and Illinois falling in the same group.
“Having a win in Quad 1 in January is very important,” Gates said. “Not just on selection Sunday, but just for us and our growth to recognize who we are and the trust we have in each other.”
This comes on the same day Missouri brought back its retro blocky “M” uniforms that the program wore in previous decades.
The Tigers also honored the decades gone by with alumni and alumni at Mizzou Arena. It’s part of Gates’ plan to one day raise banners, win championships, and be a Hall of Fame coach.
“I want our tradition to remain intact,” Gates said. “I want to do certain things. I want to do it in the short term. I want to do it in the long run.
Long term, Missouri will be affected by the short term. Should MU enter the tournament in their first year under Gates, there will be an expectation to enter the tournament on an annual basis.
That’s what happened to his predecessor, Cuonzo Martin, who earned a tournament berth in his freshman year but made just one more tournament appearance in 2021 before his firing in 2022.
What Gates does with that precedent, however, will be determined after he makes his first tournament. MU took a major step toward that accomplishment by beating Iowa State by 17 points at the end of January.
February is when MU can consolidate its place and advance its planting – or lose it. Missouri would need a catastrophic collapse in February to miss the tournament, and MU’s level of preparation and execution should earn the team at least a few more wins.
Games against Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M also loom as an opportunity to further solidify the tournament offering. They won’t be easy, though, as Auburn and Tennessee will most likely make up the top 25 road contests, and the Aggies soundly beat MU in College Station in early January.
However, even losing those three games wouldn’t spell doom for Missouri’s tournament chances. The Tigers’ victories over Iowa State, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas give them room for error.
There are also games against LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss, plus two games against Mississippi State, which could help Missouri reach the 20-win mark.
This is where MU finds itself coming in February, after a January where Gates and team turned Mizzou Arena into a hot ticket and turned the Tigers into a team on the cusp of a tournament bid.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Tigers guard D’Moi Hodge.
The Star partnered with the Columbia Daily Tribune for their coverage of Missouri Tigers athletics.