Close your eyes for a second and breathe. As a matter of fact make it 10 seconds. Just in and out through your nostrils. Go ahead.
I know you didn’t do it, you cheat. Actually do it.
You feel that? You’re breathing. You’re alive. And despite the bombshell that got dropped on our collective forehead yesterday, life is moving on. So it’s best we move on too, yes?
Now, I’m not naive. The Mizzou basketball 2017-2018 season will always be viewed through the lens of, “What if?”
If Mizzou bottoms out from here and goes .500 or worse, Mizzou fans will say, “What if Michael Porter, Jr. were playing to cover up our faults and highlight our strengths?”
If Mizzou comes together and makes a run to the NCAA Tournament, Mizzou fans will wonder, “What if Michael Porter, Jr. were here to raise our ceiling?”
And even if - beyond our wildest, most fantastic dreams - Mizzou goes on a deep March run, we’ll all still wonder: “What if we got to do this and see a generational talent play at our favorite school?”
No matter how we spin it and no matter how this team plays, the narrative will always surround the news we got yesterday.
But there is a way to go ahead and live with that in light of where the program is now, as compared to 9 months ago. For a little more perspective there, go ahead and read Sam’s piece from last night. Then we’ll get to the reason you clicked on this link.
Cuonzo Martin signed a Top 5 recruiting class this offseason. As much as Michael Porter, Jr. was the key cog of that class, there are other pieces too. Despite how you may still feel about his injury those other guys are still on the court. Jontay Porter is still the rangy, 5-star big man who re-classified to play a year early. Jeremiah Tilmon is still the athletic, dominant tower down low. CJ Roberts... he’s still here, albeit in a sporting red shirt.
And Blake Harris? Yeah, he’s still here too. Out of all the guys I just mentioned, at least 3 of them wouldn’t be at Mizzou without MPJ. And despite his injury, they’re still here and playing. In fact, they’re a big part of why Mizzou is off to a 3-1 start. Tilmon was a beast when Iowa State came to town. Jontay Porter showed off his elite skill set against Wagner. And Blake Harris against Emporia State:
Not a surprise, but your leader in plus minus (+16) is Harris.— Matthew Harris (@MattJHarris85) November 21, 2017
The difference between those 3 is that Blake Harris has had a hard time seeing the floor thus far. His Minutes Played % is only 30%, compared to 51% and 38% for Porter and Tilmon - though the latter’s percentage would certainly be higher if not for foul troubles.
In a vacuum, that makes sense. Porter and Tilmon both bring much needed size to this roster, while Harris is one of 3 or 4 capable point guards. On top of that, his game is still not quite as polished as you’d like a point guards game to be. He’s not much of an offensive threat - in game or at the line. While he’s got nifty handles, great vision and athleticism, it just seems like he’s still catching up to the speed of the college game.
But - like I pointed out earlier - this is no longer a vacuum. This year started with the idea that Mizzou would run its offense through Michael Porter, Jr., and Harris would have some time to grow without the pressures of being full-time floor general. That reality is no longer.
It’s easy to forget Harris as part of this recruiting class. He was surely the least dramatic signing of the 5 freshman. He wasn’t one of the two vaunted Porter brothers, and Mizzou didn’t flip him from a rival like Tilmon. Even CJ Roberts carried some intrigue, a 4-star prospect deciding whether or not to follow through on his commitment to the school - but not the coach - he was expecting. No, Harris simply followed the Porters to Mizzou from his previous commitment in Washington. There was some question about where he would go, but it was a pretty standard recruitment when all was said and done.
After an off season of questions regarding the point guard position, Blake Harris seemed to be getting in a groove. Rumors said he had a shot at the starting spot over returning fan favorite Terrence Phillips. He started against Kansas in the exhibition of the year. But when Cuonzo Martin announced transfer guard Kassius Robertson would take the reins as point guard to start the year, the thought was Harris might need some more grooming time.
After a few up-and-down performances, Blake Harris played his best game as a Tiger on Monday, playing 46% of his season’s minutes while posting an adjusted game score of 5.5.
To quote Matt Harris, he saved Mizzou’s bacon.
He came in at a time when the offense was anemic and the defense wasn’t good enough, and gave the Tigers enough of both. Despite his lack of a jumper, he showed how his vision and speed could pick up the offensive pace and create opportunities for guys struggling to generate their own shots.
While he did continue to get himself in foul trouble, Harris also showed he’s a capable defender, using his athleticism and length to make up for what he may be lacking in polish.
Harris’ solid performance also comes at a time when Mizzou is still looking for stable point guard play. Kassius Robertson hasn’t killed Mizzou, but he’s clearly not used to playing the position and some fans - including myself - think it might be messing with his shot. Robertson is shooting a paltry 31.7% from the field and just 29.6% from 3.
Terrence Phillips hasn’t settled in nearly as well as any of us could have hoped. He’s shown he can still shoot the ball, but he’s continued to be turnover and foul prone, which compounds with some of his deficiencies on defense. Jordan Geist, while playing better than probably most expected, just isn’t starting point guard material.
The last thing that factors into this decision will be Mizzou’s adjusted expectations. Before the season, Sam and Matt talked on “Dive Cuts” about how Mizzou was probably a lower seeded NCAA Tournament team; think 7-10 seed. Some Mizzou media figures had them even higher at around a 4 or 5 seed. Of course, this was all predicated on Michael Porter, Jr. and the team rallying for a one-of-a-kind bounce back year.
The Porter injury clearly changes the dynamic. I think most people would say Mizzou still has NCAA talent. But now, some of those wins against high-level opponents don’t seem like they’ll be guaranteed things anymore. They’ll be more of upsets, if anything.
I think the goal is still the NCAA, but they’re probably on the down side of the bubble without Mike https://t.co/xSpNU7q2hZ— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) November 21, 2017
So what do you do if you’re Cuonzo Martin, faced with a team that just lost it’s best player, but still left with a team good enough to be sneaky competitive. In my opinion, you try to raise the ceiling. That will mean playing your most talented players, even if they’re not ready right now.
Such is the case with Blake Harris, the man who should be starting at point guard the rest of the way. He’s got things he needs to work on, and starting him will likely result in some freshman moments. There will be times when he makes bone-headed passes, has a bad defensive lapse or flat out doesn’t play very well for 40 minutes.
But there will also be moments when he shows why he was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. The court vision will flash and, in time, become more consistent. The defense will tighten up, hopefully with the help of the defense-first head coach. And the offensive game? We shouldn’t expect big strides, but Harris will surely find ways to capitalize on his talents the more he plays. With a larger role, Harris will likely start to figure things out in real time.
So, Cuonzo Martin, if you’re out there trying to gauge any Mizzou fans thoughts the day after some of the worst news we’ll get this Thanksgiving week, hear us out.
Starting tomorrow night, scribble in Blake Harris’ name on the starters card, and don’t look back.