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Missouri vs. Kansas: Player grades

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The Border War revival game ended with a whimper, but you have a team again, Mizzou fans.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was a lot of fun to be a Missouri hoops fan.

Though the only reasons the game (uh, I mean, scrimmage) mattered are the money raised for hurricane relief and bragging rights, there was plenty to take from the first iteration of the first Mizzou vs. Kansas basketball game in nearly six years.

The 93-87 Jayhawk victory saw the Tigers much improved, more confident, and even though it was only an exhibition, proof that Mizzou can hang with the best. Our first look at the Tigers playing competitive basketball in 2017 revealed that although there are some very, very good positives to salivate over, there is most certainly kinks that need fixed over the course of the regular season.

Thus, here’s a quick rundown and my grades of everyone who played for Mizzou on Sunday in Kansas City:

Bench Mob

Reed Nikko

(No stats recorded in two minutes)

The sophomore big man didn’t make much of an impact in his short time on the Sprint Center floor. He didn’t feature while Kansas’s Udoka Azubuike helped spur the Jayhawks on a second-half run, when the Tigers couldn’t defend against the sophomore’s size while Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon were on the bench. Because he never really did anything outstanding - but didn’t make a costly mistake, either - he gets a “meh” grade.

Grade: C

C.J. Roberts

(Two points, one rebound)

Roberts played as many minutes as Nikko, but got his points from the free throw line after forcing Billy Preston to foul him on an offensive put-back attempt late in the first half. Though his contribution was small, the fact that even the six-foot freshman was getting offensive boards further exemplifies just how well Mizzou did on the glass against the Jayhawks.

Grade: B-

Jordan Geist

(No stats recorded in four minutes)

Geist’s contribution, like Nikko’s, was meh, except with double the amount of minutes. The junior did have a notable moment, but it wasn’t good; he sagged off of sharpshooter and all-America candidate Devonte’ Graham a littttttle too much on one defensive possession, letting the KU guard bury one of his game-high six triples.

Grade: C-

Cullen VanLeer

(Three points)

Missouri’s own VanLeer, after averaging 23.7 minutes a game last season, is widely expected to see his production take a hit after the events of the offseason. Still, Cuonzo Martin gave a little bit of time (nine minutes), and he knocked in a three pointer that broke a 16-16 tie in the first half. On defense, he contributed nothing notable.

Grade: C

Kevin Puryear

(Four points, five rebounds)

At Mizzou Madness on Saturday, Kevin Puryear looked leaner, meaner and straight-up explosive. In 22 minutes of action from him, we saw little of that Sunday. The junior struggled from the field, going 1-6, and though he was undersized when having to defend against Azubuike, was often outmatched. Of course, it’s only a scrimmage against a very talented Bill Self-coached team, so it’ll take a little bit for Puryear to settle in.

Grade: D

Terrence Phillips

(Three points, five assists)

Phillips, despite starting on the bench in favor of Blake Harris, was the main man running the point for the Tigers during the majority of Mizzou’s run to leading the Jayhawks at half. Two turnovers in 18 minutes against Kansas to start the year is nothing to scoff at. Phillips was the Tigers’ leader in hustle plays defensively, scrambling on the floor on a couple occasions, though it definitely contributed to his four personal fouls. Just three points scored also is slightly concerning, considering his 10.4 points per game average last year.

Grade: B-

Jontay Porter

(nine points, 12 rebounds, two assists)

Jontay Porter did not play like he’s supposed to be a high school senior. He and Tilmon combined to form a physical presence inside that Mizzou fans have been dreaming of these past few seasons, and was a key cog in helping the Tigers win the rebounding and physicality battles. Still, his youth showed in flashes. Going 4-12 from the field, some of his shots felt forced.

Grade: B


Starters

Blake Harris

(Three points, six assists, three rebounds)

Harris featured more prominently in the second half despite starting, and when Mizzou was down by as much as 15, provided three assists and a bucket to try and help the Tigers pull of a late rally, and was Missouri’s best answer defensively for Devonte’ Graham. However, he also missed two critical free throws with 1:44 left that would’ve cut a seven-point Kansas lead to five in that same span (he went 1-5 from the line for the game). Has he deserved the permanent starting point guard role over Phillips based on this game? Too early to tell.

Grade: B-

Kassius Robertson

(13 points, two assists, one rebound)

Be prepared to see a lot of Robertson this fall, because his importance to this team and whatever it’s crazy journey may be couldn’t be larger. Just look at his 33 minutes played Sunday, the most of any Tiger. Robertson is the silky-smooth shooter that last year’s 333th best three-point shooting team in the land craved for, going 3-5 from deep. An excellent debut from the Canisius grad transfer.

Grade: A

Jeremiah Tilmon

(10 points, four rebounds, two assists)

Some (including me) wondered why Tilmon was getting the start over the likes of Kevin Puryear and/or Jontay Porter. Now we know. Tilmon went a perfect 5-5 from the field (including a ferocious putback dunk), showcased his underrated passing on both of his assists and was the most physical player on the floor. Him playing more minutes may have changed the outcome of the game, but he was forced to play only 13 minutes after eventually fouling out (his last foul of which looked frustration-based vs. Sviatoslav Mykhailuk). Going 0-3 from the line with four turnovers also isn’t pretty. But man, there’s a lot to like.

Grade: B+

Jordan Barnett

(19 points, three rebounds)

Jordan Barnett’s first full season in a Mizzou uniform has begun with a bang. In a game where the Tigers chucked up 32 threes, Barnett went 5-7 from deep as his jumper looks much improved. Four of those triples were in the first half, being one of the main catalysts during Mizzou’s run to the lead. He was electric in 31 minutes played, and did it cleanly, picking up not a single personal foul. With pieces around him, Barnett could be set for a big year.

Grade: A-

Michael Porter, Jr.

(21 points, eight rebounds, two assists)

The most anticipated player debut in Missouri basketball history? Sure, and he was fun as hell to watch. Using his length while being often guarded by 6-5 LaGerald Vick, MPJ could get whatever shot he wanted on almost every possession, and he looked good doing it. He was also the only Tiger who looked ready to go on the free throw line, going 7-8. But his Mizzou opener wasn’t perfect. In the second half especially, his shots looked either rushed, forced, or both; scoring 21 on 20 shots isn’t exactly efficient, even in an off-the-record game against a college hoops blue blood. He and his brother combined to shoot a poor 10-32, perhaps feeling a need to perform under pressure. Still, it’s nowhere to go but up dealing with a player as naturally talented as Porter, Jr.

Grade: B