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Can Cuonzo Martin and Michael Porter Jr. lead Mizzou to the promised land?

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Previewing the #4 team in the SEC, the Missouri Tigers.

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

#4 Missouri Tigers

Last Season: 8 - 24 (2-16 in conference) #156 kenpom

My Prediction: 21 - 9 (11 - 7, 4th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 10.2 - 7.8 (5th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: California at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Cuonzo Martin | first season 0-0

After the worst three year stretch since the 1966-68 seasons, Missouri basketball was teetering on the brink of oblivion. The fan base had checked out and stopped coming to games, and the mystique of hiring former Mizzou basketball great Kim Anderson as head coach had completely worn off. Mizzou Athletic Director Jim Sterk knew he had to make a change. Early on in the process he targeted Cuonzo Martin, the former Cal, Tennessee and Missouri State head coach and East St. Louis native, as the man he wanted. Sterk got his guy with a bit of fanfare and the “homecoming” for Martin saw one of the most memorable offseasons that set the program more than on the right path, but led many to declare the Tigers back.

Martin has his share of critics. His teams have traditionally played slow and methodical, he’s been accused to squandering very talented teams at both Cal and Tennessee, and hasn’t quite lived up to the hype many had for him when he won the Missouri Valley Coach of the year in 2011. A career record of 186-121, for a winning percentage of .606%, doesn’t exactly set the world on fire. And Martin’s job hopping also hasn’t allowed us to see what a 4th year under his guidance will look like, but it still shouldn’t take away from his success to date.

Regardless of previous stops, Martin quickly assembled enough talent in Columbia for Missouri basketball fans to be excited again. Missouri is paying him like an elite coach and there he still has a lot to prove, but we know at least he’s a major upgrade for the Tigers and should solidify the program for years to come.

Seat Temp: COOL

10 year look preview 2017 missouri

The goalposts for Missouri have changed in a hurry, and even though it’s been four years since they’ve danced and they barely won eight games a year ago, this team has the expectation of playing in the NCAA tournament. Martin will have a challenge to get a roster full of newcomers to mesh with the remaining talent, many believe there is enough for this team to achieve big things this year.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Kassius Robertson graduation 33 89.23% 22.38% 21.38% 22.62%
Jordan Barnett graduation 32 82.02% 18.30% 12.88% 15.70%
Michael Porter, Jr. professional 3 3.98% 1.25% 0.62% 1.47%
Cullen VanLeer retirement 31 33.23% 3.04% 4.99% 4.26%
Blake Harris transfer 14 14.66% 2.21% 6.49% 3.46%
Terrence Phillips transfer 20 15.94% 2.08% 5.43% 2.46%
Brett Rau* graduation 11 3.76% 0.42% 0.30% 0.55%
48.56% 49.68% 52.09% 50.52%

Under Kim Anderson the Mizzou program became a bit of a revolving door of transfers and incoming freshmen. Three players left from last years team via transfer, six left the season before that. All being told the last four year player to start and end his career at Missouri was Ryan Rosburg, before him was Laurence Bowers. Just two players, one apart of the 2008 recruiting class, the other apart of the 2012 recruiting class. It’s easy to see why the program has struggled so much since Frank Haith’s last season.

Russell Woods was a good soldier for the program. A limited big man who fought each night and gave everything he could on some creaky knees, it just wasn’t enough to be a difference maker. K.J. Walton was a victim of the Kim Anderson era, a player who never quite seemed to play with the consistency needed for his talent. Frankie Hughes came out of the gates like gangbusters last season but faded quickly unable to sustain his hot shooting from the outset. Willie Jackson came in highly praised by the coaching staff but struggled to find a consistent role early enough and transferred midseason.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Jontay Porter SO CF 33 60.74% 13.59% 66.46% 16.05%
Kevin Puryear SR CF 33 62.77% 11.80% 64.83% 7.93%
Jeremiah Tilmon SO POST 33 48.04% 11.25% 63.90% 4.60%
Jordan Geist SR CG 33 64.65% 10.09% 69.44% 17.45%
Reed Nikko JR POST 33 20.15.% 3.21% 66.08% 1.70%
Adam Wolf* JR CF 4 0.83% 0.38% 92.21% 0.19%
Mitchell Smith R-SO CF REDSHIRT
22.70% 24.93% 62.63% 23.94%
NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Texas A&M Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Barnett | SENIOR | COMBO FORWARD

Kim Anderson doesn’t leave the roster completely devoid of talent. No matter where you go in the league there are people who will always identify a few Tigers they think can stand out on this new roster, and towards the top of those lists is always Jordan Barnett. Barnett actually led the team in scoring once he joined the roster at semester, so you’d think he’d also be a no-brainer for time but he’s also playing the same position as a certain heralded freshmen. What helps Barnett is he does have legit next level athleticism and talent. It will be interesting to see how Cuonzo Martin works this rotation because Barnett certain is good enough to start and play a ton. Especially if Barnett can find more consistency from outside as the Tigers will be looking to improve drastically from deep this year.

It’s impossible to know who will have what role on this years team but I can safely say Kevin Puryear should benefit from the new arrangement. Puryear was a featured player on a bad team last year, but now he gets bumped down a few spots on the priority list which should free him up for way easier looks than he’s had since he joined the roster. Puryear, like Barnett, will have a young group of players looking to challenge for minutes but he’s got enough offensive game to be a fixture in the rotation. The next guy looking to get big minutes on the improved roster is Terrence Phillips. when Phillips signed on at Missouri he was asked to do more than he had in prep school. Phillips is an old school point guard, he’s a pass-first kind of guy and the last few years he hasn’t had enough around him to pass to. Phillips made do with what he had and still was second in the league last year in assists, when considering Missouri had the worst offense in the conference you begin to understand the achievement.

After Barnett, Puryear, and Phillips the questions get bigger on what we’ll get from the rest of the roster. Jordan Geist isn’t the most physically gifted player but he’s a pest and knows how to get under the skin of whoever he’s guarding. Cullen VanLeer would seem to be the kind of player who might benefit from a change in the offense in being asked to stand in the corner and pop three’s, but he’s also a risk to get pushed down the depth chart as he struggles to defend quicker wings. Both Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith are guys who contributed little last year, it will be interesting to see if one of them can break into a tightening rotation. Nikko has received praise this offseason and he’s already a big body, while Smith is recovering from an ACL tear and needs to add weight to become a bigger threat inside.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Torrence Watson 6'5 200 ★★★★ 113 WING
Fr Xavier Pinson 6'2 170 ★★★ 248 PG
Fr Javon Pickett 6'4 207 ★★★ 292 WING
Fr Christian Guess 6'5 180 ★★★ - WING
R-So K.J. Santos 6'8 220 CF
So Mark Smith 6'4 220 CG
Jr Dru Smith 6'3 200 PG
NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Porter Jr | FRESHMAN | COMBO FORWARD

What can you say about Michael Porter Jr that hasn’t already been said? If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know who he is, Porter is the consensus top overall player in the country coming into his freshman season and a preseason pick for All American. Porter is a super skilled 6’10 wing with deep shooting range and explosive vertical athleticism. He’ll step in right away and assume the role of primary scorer in hopes of lifting a team that won eight games a year ago and get them into the NCAA tournament. It’s also because of Porter Jr that the Tigers enjoy the eight highest odds to win the National Championship. Porter is certainly a one and done, so Mizzou has gone all in on their chances with him this season.

Porter Jr was the crown jewel of a class that ended being ranked #3 in the country overall. Pretty amazing when the teams ahead of you on the list are Kentucky and Duke. The second most highly rated player in the group is Jontay Porter, Michael’s younger brother, who left the 2018 class to join his brother at Mizzou this season. Jontay is slightly taller than his brother and plays more of a traditional post position, but like his brother he’s highly skilled and can stretch the floor. Jeremiah Tilmon is another big who was badly needed in Columbia. Tilmon is a traditional back to the basket big man who is going to rebound and block shots for the Tigers this year. I’d imagine he’ll be a frequent recipient of dump-offs from drives to the basket by the guards. Mizzou kept the pledge from combo guard C.J. Roberts, who originally committed to Kim Anderson. Roberts is a multi-level scorer who may need some time to adjust to the college game but has a high ceiling. Blake Harris was considered by some to be the best passer in the 2017 class, and someone who wanted to play with Porter Jr. He’s an explosive athlete but bounced around schools which may have stifled his ranking a bit. The most unheralded offseason addition may have been Kassius Robertson, a graduate transfer who is a lights out volume shooter from Canisius. I’d expect Robertson to play a large role on the team this season.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Dru Smith Xavier Pinson
(2) Combo Guard Jordan Geist Javon Pickett Mark Smith
(3) Wing Torrence Watson K.J. Santos Christian Guess
(4) Combo Forward Kevin Puryear Mitchell Smith Jontay Porter
(5) Post Jeremiah Tilmon Reed Nikko

You put Michael Porter Jr’s name in the starting five with a pen, and figure out the rest. Terrence Phillips and Blake Harris are going to battle for the starting point guard spot and it wouldn’t surprise me to see that fluctuate some early in the season. What is really going to be interesting to me is Tilmon and Jontay Porter. Tilmon has an early lead, but both players are capable of playing together as MPJ or Barnett are more than capable of playing on the wing. And I’m also curious to see how Cuonzo Martin utilizes Kevin Puryear, who is best as an undersized post player, and not really in the small ball four kind of way. Cuonzo Martin has preferred more traditional lineups in the past but he could very easily slide Porter Jr to the nominal ‘4’ spot and go “small” with Barnett on the wing. Either way this roster got deep in a hurry.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 21 - 9 | KenPom Projected Record: 13 - 16

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home Central Arkansas 288 W
Nov 9 Road Iowa State 25 L
Nov 16 Neutral Kennesaw State 329 W
Nov 17 Neutral Oregon St/Old Dominon 90/86 W
Nov 19 Neutral TBD - -
Nov 27 Neutral Temple 82 W
Dec 2 Home UCF 70 W
Dec 4 Home UT-Arlington 229 W
Dec 7 Home Oral Roberts 237 W
Dec 18 Home Xavier 55 L
Dec 22 Neutral Illinois 85 W
Dec 29 Home Morehead State 208 W
avg 160.8

With the revamped roster, Missouri embarks on a non-conference schedule that does leave a little to be desired. There are some nominal opponents with matchups against a rebuilding Iowa State team to open the season, and Utah on the road, plus Tacko Fall and UCF on the road... there are some challenging games but no real top 25 opponents lined up unless the Tigers make the Advocare Invitational championship game and meet West Virginia. The closest is probably UCF as many project them on the outskirts of the top 25 and a likely tournament team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Mizzou’s young roster drop another game or two and really leave them with work to do in conference.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 8 Home Tennessee 11 L
Jan 12 Away South Carolina 42 W
Jan 16 Home Alabama 51 W
Jan 19 Away Texas A&M 48 W
Jan 23 Away Arkansas 64 L
Jan 26 Home LSU 50 L
Jan 30 Away Auburn 17 L
Feb 2 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
Feb 5 Away Tennessee 11 L
Feb 9 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 12 Home Arkansas 64 W
Feb 16 Away Ole Miss 94 W
Feb 19 Home Kentucky 7 L
Feb 23 Away Florida 19 L
Feb 26 Away Mississippi St 23 L
Mar 2 Home South Carolina 42 W
Mar 6 Away Georgia 101 W
Mar 9 Home Ole Miss 94 W
avg 47.5

The Tigers will benefit, or sink, with one of the tougher league schedules. They get Kentucky and Texas A&M each twice and will need to find wins against both teams. Also a home and home with Arkansas, and both Mississippi schools won’t be a walk in the park. They do get Florida at home, as well as Auburn, likely giving them enough of an advantage to win against some of the other elite teams in the league. And you hope road games against LSU and South Carolina are enough to help them get a few road wins. But playing Alabama on the road won’t be an easy game. If the Tigers want to be in the NCAA tournament, they’ll need to likely get to 10 wins. I’ve got them with 11.

OVERVIEW

The long three year nightmare for Mizzou fans is over. 27 wins in three years was a shocking turn for a program that had been so successful throughout it’s history. There were down seasons here and there but nothing like the win totals of 2015, 2016 and 2017. And not just the losses on the court but Missouri couldn’t even seem to win off the court as well. The program became a turnstile as player after player left the team leaving the roster depleted and lacking enough talent to compete. Things were so dire it’s even impacted the preseason KenPom projection which has Missouri at 81.

The hiring of Cuonzo Martin seemed to completely reenergize the Tigers and it started with his first assistant hire. For all the craziness with the FBI, the Missouri Tigers did it the legit way by hiring the father of elite players Michael Porter Jr and his younger brother Jontay. Once the Porters were on board, the roster began to turnover from one who could barely win 10 games in a season, to one many are picking inside the NCAA tournament field.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

So what are the weaknesses for this team? Well they’ll be counting a lot upon the influx of new players, so chemistry and freshman growing pains are likely. A lot of the projection for the Tigers to date are based upon things we haven’t seen. Granted, the consensus on the talent of Michael Porter Jr is through the roof. By most accounts he can and should be a top five player in college this year and a likely top three pick in the NBA next year. If you can start your roster with a guy like that you can usually fill things around him which Missouri has done.

They absolutely have to have solid guard play and the need Kassius Robertson to be the answer from deep on the outside. If Robertson can supply a reasonable amount of high-percentage 3-point shooting it automatically makes Mizzou a more dangerous team. If Jeremiah Tilmon can stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, and Jontay Porter can give them a much needed boost on the inside as well, it’s going to make anything and everything Porter Jr needs to do so much easier. If the returning players can provide the extra boost on some nights it will make Mizzou even better.

But this season is going to hinge on just how good Michael Porter Jr is. On most nights he can be Kevin Durant-like, capable of putting up 25 points and double digit rebounds. He’s a player who is accustomed to winning and winning big. A multiple year state champion in high school, and a National Championship as a senior last year (awarded by votes), plus a Peach Jam AAU championship. And even with all the roster improvements it’s unlikely Mizzou is an elite team with MPJ. If everything breaks their way they aren’t a National Championship contender, but they are good enough they could threaten in the SEC and make a run in March.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.