I am eagerly counting down the days until the start of the college basketball season. This will be my final column before the real games begin.
(I am aware of the exhibitions, but what can I say about Louisville’s embarrassing loss to Kentucky Wesleyan that hasn’t already been said? I mean, Kenny Payne doesn’t believe his team can win with talent…against a Division II school. It’s a clear and disappointing result, isn’t it?)
Anyway, many of my opinions are based on what I see on paper, so I would like to share them all at once. Here are my predictions for the 2023-24 men’s college basketball season.
Last year, the Tigers had a record of 23-8, so this season may be a slight step back for the team, but it shouldn’t keep them out of the NCAA tournament.
For Mizzou, the key is to have a strong start in non-conference play. They need to win all seven of their games against non-high major opponents, with the toughest challenge likely being a home game against Wichita State.
If they achieve that, the Tigers need to go 4-2 against the following opponents:
Seton Hall (semi-home)
This should be achievable. Memphis will be playing their second game of the season with a mostly new roster and without head coach Penny Hardaway on the sidelines due to a three-game suspension. Minnesota was predicted to finish last in the Big Ten preseason poll. Pittsburgh will have two freshmen running the point guard position, which Nick Honor and Sean East II could take advantage of. Kansas is always a tough opponent. Seton Hall was projected to finish third-worst in the Big East, and Missouri expects a large crowd as they play in Kansas City, Mo., for the first time since 2019. The Fighting Illini are consistently difficult, but the Tigers have had success against them recently.
If they win four games against this group, MU would start conference play with an 11-2 record. From there, they would need to go 10-8 against SEC opponents. Mizzou has six matchups against what I anticipate to be the four weakest teams in the conference (Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, and South Carolina). If they win all six of those, they are only four wins away from their goal.
The Tigers will host Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Texas A&M. They will also play on the road against Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt. None of these games are guaranteed wins, but they only need to win one-third of them.
Over the past decade, teams that finished with a 10-8 record in the SEC have placed an average of sixth in the conference standings, ranging from the fourth seed to seventh (always in the top half). In the last six years, only three SEC teams with a 10-8 record failed to make it to the Big Dance, and all three struggled in their non-conference schedules. As you may recall, I voted for Mizzou to finish sixth in the conference in the SEC preseason poll.
After that, March Madness takes over and anything can happen. However, if Missouri’s goal is to return to the NCAA tournament, there is a realistic path to get there, even if it doesn’t unfold exactly as I described. There is even a chance that the Tigers could earn a higher seed than last season because they will face tougher opponents this year. Avoiding major upsets, winning a few toss-up games, and they’ll be there.
Laura Davis covers the world of basketball with precision. Her articles explore NBA and college basketball, offering game analysis, player profiles, and highlights. Laura’s passion for hoops is evident in her comprehensive basketball coverage.