Numbers game

L.G. Patterson/AP Photo

Missouri beat Western Michigan 66-60 in the glamorous 6 p.m. Sunday time slot at Mizzou Arena.

This is important for one reason.

Missouri didn't lose.

That's it.

The announced crowd was 7,252 ... many of them must have spent most of the night in the bathroom. But while the crowd was really small, it was quiet, too.

You've been to louder libraries. And funerals.

But can you blame the fans for not showing up? No.

First, the bigger sports story in Missouri right now is the Kansas City Chiefs. They played at 3 p.m. and put a beat-down on the woeful Oakland Raiders, 56-31, to improve to 11-3. The St. Louis Rams also kicked off after 3 p.m. and they were at home, and they put a beat-down on the anything-but-woeful New Orleans Saints, 27-16.

MU students are out for Christmas break (not Winter break). In addition, most people actually work for a living, they have to get up Monday morning, and don't want to make a long, cold drive on a Sunday night to watch Missouri play Western Michigan.

It's called having better things to do.

It would have been glamorous and the crowd would have been bigger if Missouri had actually played somebody. Instead, the No. 24 Tigers (10-0) continue to play a series of patsies in the non-conference schedule ... before playing a series of patsies once they start the conference schedule.

They have played, to name a few, Southeastern Louisiana, Gardner-Webb (if you know where Gardner-Webb is located, city and state, I'll give you a dollar) and IUPUI (pronounced ooey-pooey).

Missouri entered Sunday's game with a strength of schedule ranked 140th in the country. Just behind Coppin State, just ahead of Tennessee State. MU's number will be lower after this one, because Western Michigan (no dollar for naming the state) was 330th out of 349 Div. I schools.

This schedule puts the ooey in the pooey.

More of the Numbers Game, concerning the strength of schedule (SOS) for some noteworthy teams:

* The team with the No. 1 SOS (SOS, that's kinda of ironic) is Kansas (7-3). Others worth noting ranked in the Top 15 include Baylor (No. 2, 6-1), Massachusetts (No. 8, 9-0), Wisconsin (No. 8, 12-0), North Carolina (No. 11, 7-2) and Colorado (No. 14, 10-1).

You might be advised to remember these teams when filling out your bracket in three months. Playing a really good schedule, and having a really good record, is something worth remembering.

* Missouri's best win, according to SOS, is against Northwestern, ranked No. 16. Oh, wait, never mind ... that's Northeastern. Northwestern is at No. 69. Wow, SORRY! My bad again ... that's Northwestern State. Okay, there they are ... Northwestern (5-5) is No. 88.

* Missouri's best win, period --- passing the eye-test, smell-test and the somebody-we've-heard of test --- is over UCLA. And UCLA (9-1) hasn't played anybody, either, as the Bruins are ranked No. 166. So we really don't know how good that win is, just yet.

* Here are three other teams that deserve a non shout-out for playing a lousy schedule to this point --- Michigan (No. 156), Louisville (No. 214) and Notre Dame (No. 222). But those numbers will rise significantly once conference play starts.

* Missouri's SOS number won't rise much when conference play begins. Why? Because the SEC --- as great as it is in football --- stinks in basketball, other than Kentucky, Florida and the Tigers. Here are the SEC teams ranked below MU in SOS: Texas A&M (265), Auburn (301), Mississippi State (325) and Georgia (328). These are teams you can, and should, forget.

At least Missouri will do what none of these other schools will do --- both go to a bowl game and make the NCAA Tournament.

Having said that, the Tigers could end the season 26-5 and end up with no better than a 5 or 6 seed. They don't deserve any better because of their non-conference schedule, although they do still have games against Illinois (112, 9-2) and at North Carolina State (248, 7-2). In the end, those games should help the cause.

Okay, enough SOS numbers (we'll get to the RPI at a later date). A few details about Sunday's game ...

Missouri's intensity matched the size and intensity of the crowd. The Tigers led 31-22 at the half against Broncos (5-4), but the gap closed to just 47-45 with less than 10 minutes left. The Tigers scored the next nine points to make it somewhat comfortable the rest of the way in an uncomfortable game to watch.

Jabari Brown finished with 15 points for the Tigers, who will break until Saturday's 4:30 p.m. Braggin' Rights game against Illinois in St. Louis. Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross both scored 12, while Tony Criswell chipped in 10.

"I thought it wasn't one of our better performances," Tigers coach Frank Haith said. "We just didn't look like we were together, as a team. It wasn't pretty, but it does go in the left side of the column."

Indeed. The Tigers are 10-0, it was the their 25th straight home win, the longest such streak in the nation, and the 80th straight win at home against a non-conference team.

It doesn't matter (as much) who you're playing, those are impressive numbers.

Finally, we'll end with these two notes:

* In dead, solid last in the SOS is Norfolk State (349, 4-3). Remember them? The folks from Norfolk are the ones who ended Missouri's NCAA Tournament run in 2012. Actually, it really wasn't much of a run, as this happened in the first round. After MU enjoyed a dream season, this was a nightmare finish.

Missouri was a No. 2 seed, Norfolk State was No. 15. The Tigers were 22-point favorites. Losing when you're a 22-point favorite would be considered a nightmare.

Norfolk State lost its second-round game by 34 points.

(Side note: While playing in a charity golf tournament in June, 2012, I noticed they had a basketball autographed by that Missouri team. It was up for auction and they were very proud of it at the auction table. Then I asked them if they had a basketball autographed by Norfolk State, I'd bid on that. They didn't seem to get the humor.)

* Lastly, Gardner-Webb is located in Boiling Springs, N.C.

Let me know if I owe you a dollar.