What do we know about Mizzou basketball so far? What can be learned against Wichita State?

Missouri head coach Dennis Gates talks to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi Valley State Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Columbia, Mo.
Missouri head coach Dennis Gates talks to players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi Valley State Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri men’s basketball is seven games into the Dennis Gates era. The Tigers have won all seven, and have looked impressive while doing it. Now, tougher competition is on the way.

On Tuesday, they’ll go on the road for the first time to play Wichita State. Then, after a final prep game against Southeast Missouri State, it will be time for the Border War vs. Kansas at Mizzou Arena.

Before MU heads across state lines to take on the Shockers, here’s what we’ve learned about the Tigers so far this season, and what we can expect to find out in the near future.

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They're a generous bunch

Gates has made it clear that one of his expectations for the team is a positive assists-to-turnovers ratio. So far, that hasn’t been much of an issue.

Through their seven games, the Tigers have averaged 23.3 assists. Missouri has turned the ball over an average of 12 times per game.

"I think these guys really have a true, true friendship,” Gates said after MU beat Southern Illinois- Edwardsville. “That’s one of our core values and I see that often, but the respect that they have for one another, that’s the part that we’re rooted in the most.”

It seems everyone on the team is looking to pass. That’s by design, as Gates brought in a sports psychologist in the offseason to help build a team culture of unselfishness.

Even noted scorers, like Missouri State transfer Isiaih Mosley who was known primarily for his ability to get buckets with the Bears, are looking to pass.

Missouri’s head coach made unselfishness, one of the eight core values that he will recite at the drop of a hat. But it’s clearly not just a slogan for the Tigers.

"We’re all selfish by nature,” Gates said. “You’ve got to talk about how to be unselfish, what it looks like, what it smells like, what it talks like. You’ve got to also have the awareness of what selfishness looks like, or even before it becomes selfish, what does the behavior patterns look like?”

It's a player-led operation

Missouri's D'Moi Hodge dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Coastal Carolina Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 89-51.(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Missouri's D'Moi Hodge dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Coastal Carolina Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 89-51.(AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Gates has spoken many times about how he views roster construction as a puzzle and every player a piece of the bigger picture. With just three returning players from last year’s team, Gates put together a largely veteran unit, with only three freshmen on the roster.

The group has played plenty of college basketball and has so far looked like it is gelling as well as could be expected. Gates has spoken of how, at times, he lets the team coach itself, with Tre Gomillion helping take the lead on that front.

"Most of these guys, they’ve been in locker rooms, they can identify and say, ‘Hey, we need to leave such-and-such in,’” Gates said. “Coach Gomillion over there, he tells me who to sub in, who to sub out, ‘Hey, we’re gonna get Ben in at 2:30, we’re gonna get Dre out at this time.’ That’s the leadership that we have.”

Gates will let players tell him when they need to come in and out of games. He’s also open to suggestions for schemes, with Kobe Brown drawing up a play against Coastal Carolina, something Brown said he had never done before.

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Gomillion, along with D’Moi Hodge and several others, followed Gates from his previous head coaching job at Cleveland State this offseason. Those players know his style and how to work within a player-led system, while some of the others on the roster have had to catch up.

As those players learn more and more about playing for Gates, the trend of athlete leadership should only grow stronger for the Tigers.

Anybody on any night can get the points

Missouri doesn’t have to rely on a single player to score all of the points night after night. Through seven games, the Tigers have had five different leading scorers.

That’s made their roster extremely happy.

"I think we have a group of guys who truly get a joy feeling from seeing a teammate succeed,” Gomillion said after the Houston Christian game. “I feel like Gates did a great job recruiting guys like that... I feel like as soon as we stepped on campus, we wanted to see each other win.”

It’s also made them a nightmare for opponents to scout. Sure, the usual suspects are going to get their points, including Brown and Hodge, but there are plenty of other options.

Houston Christian coach Ron Cottrell spoke of how hard it was to get a read on the Tigers with so many possible scorers.

“We had to prepare for so many guys and for so many things that they do” Cottrell said. “We talk about scouting guys and plays and how you’re going to guard certain things. Well, you really can’t prepare for (Missouri) like that.”

Can Mizzou beat the tougher competition?

Wichita State guard Xavier Bell, center, looks to shoot under pressure from Grand Canyon forwards Noah Baumann (20) and Yvan Ouedraogo, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Hall of Fame Classic, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Wichita State guard Xavier Bell, center, looks to shoot under pressure from Grand Canyon forwards Noah Baumann (20) and Yvan Ouedraogo, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Hall of Fame Classic, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Missouri is 7-0. That’s a good thing for the Tigers, who have shown major signs of improvement over last year.

However, they haven’t exactly been facing the toughest competition. To steal a phrase popularized by fans of the Paul Finebaum Show, they ain’t played nobody.

On Tuesday, they’ll take on Wichita State, which isn’t quite Kansas, but will still be a more difficult battle than Houston Christian. The Shockers are currently 85th in Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball rankings.

Wichita State is currently 4-2 on the season. It beat Tarleton State 83-71 in its last game, on Saturday.

MU, which ranks 37th in KenPom and garnered two votes in the AP Top 25 poll, hasn’t faced a team ranked higher than 156th. All those wins have been nice, but Tuesday’s matchup will provide a more true picture about what the Tigers are as a team, going into the more difficult part of their schedule.

How will they respond on the road?

All seven of Missouri’s wins have come within the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena. On Tuesday, the Tigers will be forced into a new environment for the first time.

Gates said he’s not particularly worried about the trip, noting that his team is largely made up of veterans who’ve done this kind of thing before.

"This isn’t their first rodeo,” Gates said. “If I had a team full of freshmen, that’s different, but we have guys that have played 60-plus games before. They know what the preparation looks like.”

A good record on the road would be a major turnaround in Gates’ first season. Last year’s Tigers were abysmal on the road, finishing a paltry 2-10 away from Mizzou Arena.

Whether or not the 2022-23 Missouri team can improve on that is yet to be seen. If it can, that would be a huge positive for a squad that is already looking better.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: What will Missouri basketball's game against Wichita State teach us?