First things first: If ESPN (in consultation with the Southeastern Conference) truly wanted to inject the Big 12/SEC Challenge with some pizzazz or intrigue, it would have found a way by now to revive the dormant Kansas-Missouri rivalry in the mid-season sideshow it puts on.
That it hasn’t happened yet no doubt pleases KU basketball coach Bill Self, to whom Mizzou has been dead since defecting.
Of course, at least until now, that oversight or obstacle or whatever has kept it from taking place has been fortunate for MU, which the Jayhawks would have stomped the last few years and has won fewer than half as many games as Kansas (147 wins for Kansas, 73 for Missouri) since leaving the Big 12.
Amid momentous changes for the Missouri basketball program, though, this season might have made for a great time to rekindle the Border War.
If, that is, Mizzou hadn’t been left out of the challenge altogether based on its recent past instead of included because of an extreme makeover that suggests a fascinating season ahead:
In case you’ve been hibernating, MU since hiring Cuonzo Martin in March has attracted the nation’s top recruit in Michael Porter Jr. and a top-10 class by multiple reputable recruiting services.
So, how dare ESPN and the SEC leave MU out?
Excuse our yawn here.
Other than missing out on the enticing prospect of this group playing Kansas, it’s a waste of energy on many levels for Mizzou fans to feel slighted.
The challenge concept is a fine event and all, a refreshing break amid the grind of the conference season. It always features some terrific matchups, like KU’s game at Kentucky last year.
But it’s a contrived affair puffed up with a lot of overstated hype, if that’s not redundant, the sort of thing that gets announced on its own on a May day as if it were some essential component of the season or portends what’s ahead.
In this case, it appears just the opposite: that scant thought was invested in Mizzou’s prospects this season or decisions were made long before seemingly seismic recent developments.
So Tigers fans can feel outraged it they want to by MU being omitted for a third straight year from the gig, a development that seems to reflect at face value that Mizzou went 27-68 in the last three seasons.
What with there being 14 SEC teams and 10 Big 12 teams, though, something has to give … so maybe not including the program that went 2-16 in league play last year isn’t so insulting?
Or as MU athletic director Jim Sterk put it in a statement: “One of the key factors in determining the SEC’s entrants is a program’s recent on-court performance, which is certainly understandable.”
Alternatively, the Tigers and their fans could bask in a chip-on-the-shoulder notion that ESPN miscalculated MU’s renewed appeal after an offseason that appears as transformational as one could be without, you know, having actually played any games.
Really, though, assuming these decisions weren’t locked in months ago, if this makes any statement at all it’s that what has made for waves of in-state buzz and some national ripples hasn’t quite gone viral.
As it should be, frankly, coming out of the Show-Me State.
No matter how good Porter and his incoming cohorts are and can be, nothing can be assumed about how this will play out — beyond that they will be well-received by a number of fans frenzied with anticipation.
The twist on this is that if Porter is all he’s thought to be, surrounded by a strong supporting cast, perhaps he’ll help Mizzou reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Then if he does as expected, he’ll be off into the NBA Draft ... never to be seen in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
And it won’t really matter any more when MU finally reappears in the event than it does now — which is to say not a lot … unless and until it leads to playing Kansas.