NASHVILLE — Before the season, the Missouri Tigers and their new coach, Dennis Gates, were predicted to finish 11th in the SEC. Fresh off a second win over the preseason No. 3 pick, in a season that has included wins over the projected No. 1 and No. 2, it’s past time to reassess those predictions.

Put some respect on those SEC Tournament semifinal bound Missouri Tigers. They’ve earned it.

Start with Gates, bypassed in the league’s Coach of the Year voting. The rookie coach of the 24-8 Tigers is still fighting for the school’s potential first SEC Tournament title. Stick with Kobe Brown, who has always played hard, who has always shown flashes of potential. As in much of the season, Brown had more than potential rolling Friday afternoon, when he had 24 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a late rally over Tennessee. Add in D’Moi Hodge, who had 26 points including 4 3-point baskets. Hodge had 17 points and Brown 12 in Mizzou’s 49-point second half explosion when the Tigers shot 60% against the suddenly defense-less Tennessee Vols.

“It’s hard to play defense,” said Brown of Tennessee’s attempts to avoid Mizzou’s second half run, “when you can’t get back and get in front of guys.”

In the biggest moment of the game, Tennessee couldn’t get in front of Missouri’s Nick Honor, who came to the bench in the final 2 minutes of a tie game and told his coach, “Give me a ball screen.” Honor’s ensuing long-distance 3-pointer swung momentum permanently in Mizzou’s favor. And the Tigers have created plenty of momentum this season — sometimes in unusual ways.

“You don’t always listen to players,” said Gates of Honor’s call for the ball. “But I listen to mine.” He later admitted that his team “coached themselves in that moment.”

It took plenty of coaching, and plenty of execution to outlast Tennessee. The Vols rode a long Jahmai Mashack buzzer-beater to a halftime lead, and scretched their lead as far as 38-30 a minute into the second half. Tennessee made 10 3-pointers, including 5 from Santiago Vescovi. Tennessee played the kind of game that left Missouri, despite being the higher seed, as a 5.5-point underdog. There’s that disrespect again.

“We have a saying of not blinking,” Gates said after the game. “We don’t allow the outside conditions to impact our individual belief in each other.”

While Gates might want the respect that has sometimes eluded the Tigers, make no mistake that he wants it on his own terms.

“I don’t look at things as challenges,” he said of his sudden turnaround of Tiger hoops. “You say, ‘How fast!’ and I say, ‘It took too long.'”

“In my eyes, we have the No. 1 team in the country,” Gates said.

Some won’t give much respect even after Friday’s performance. Tennessee was playing without point guard Zakai Ziegler and the Vols had been hot and cold over the past 5 weeks or so. But now, Mizzou– appearing in their first SEC Tournament semifinal — faces Alabama on Saturday with a chance to nab the kind of win that could add in plenty of respect, even from the most jaded observers.

“I probably won’t get much sleep tonight,” noted Gates, pondering the need to strategize against the Tide. Maybe it’s Alabama who shouldn’t be snoozing on Mizzou. It hasn’t gone well for anybody else this season.