The 2016-2017 season was another year for the books. For the first time in program history, the Tigers won in back-to-back NCAA tournaments (although they lost in both tournaments in the second round). It was just the third season since 1985 with 22 wins. On top of that - Mizzou finished 3rd in the SEC, a program best, after being picked seventh in the preseason SEC poll. And the two teams that finished ahead of them? They played each other in the national championship game. The Tigers also were only one of 14 NCAA teams ever to shoot 80.2% or better in free throws (one of the other team's was Coach Robin Pingeton's Illinois St. 09-10 team).
So what can we expect when the Tigers open their schedule Friday against Western Kentucky in the Hawkeye Classic? Mizzou is picked to finish 3rd in the SEC again this year, behind last year’s championship game participants, South Carolina and Mississippi State. This continues the tradition of preseason polls reflecting last year’s results. Nationally, the Tigers are ranked 16th in both the media and coaches preseason polls, though Tennessee is also ranked ahead of Mizzou in the AP poll, contradicting the SEC preseason picks.
The Tigers lost some key pieces from last year’s team in Lianna Doty, Sierra Michaelis, and Lindsey Cunningham. Last year’s team played much better when Doty became the starter at point after nine games. She recorded 110 total assists her senior year and finished her career with a total of 483 assists, ranking second in Mizzou program history. Doty also had 536 career points, 192 career steals (ninth-all time), and 331 career rebounds. She played in 128 games over her career, earning 77 starts.
Lindsey Cunningham started all 33 games last year. She split time between the two guard slots while racking up the most minutes of any player at 33.4 per game. She finished her career second all-time in program history in career 3-point field goal percentage (40.6) and ninth all-time in career assists (310) while racking up 555 career points, 369 rebounds and 80 three-pointers.
Sierra Michaelis had a little bit a Clarence Gilbert in her. She was supremely confident and would let it fly from three with the tiniest gap. And when she got hot, she could light up the scoreboard in a hurry. She’s the 34th member of Mizzou’s 1000 points over career club. She showed the same confidence on defense, leading to many steals but also to many fouls. She played in 123 games for Mizzou and started in 85 of those games. In those games, she scored 1,158 total points, made 185 three-pointers (third-most in program history). In her final season, she made 69 three-pointers, good for second-most in the SEC.
Bri Porter’s career is also over after five ACL injuries. She sat out all of last season after incurring the final injury in the preseason. Pingeton has said that Bri will apply for a medical hardship waiver that will allow her to travel with the team as a student assistant.
That’s a lot to replace, yet Sophie Cunningham asserts this is “the best team we’ve ever had here at Mizzou.” How is that possible? Well, those three quality starters are being replaced by a former 2nd team All SEC player, the SEC co-Freshman of the Year, and the former scoring and assist leader at Kansas. Let’s take a closer look.
Sophie Cunningham - It all starts with all SEC superstar Sophie Cunningham. Last year, she earned All-SEC honors despite the back injury that kept her from practicing, resulting from a bulging disc in her lower back. She considered surgery for this spring, which would have sidelined her for the entire 2017 - 18 season. When learning she would have to be sidelined for 12 months, she opted for rigorous physical therapy and hopefully she stays healthy for the entire season. Needless to say, her sass and swag that she’s so proud of is a key component of this team. This year, she has been tabbed a preseason first-team all-conference player, although she lost preseason player of the year to South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson (Wilson’s third straight preseason player of the year selection).
As a sophomore, Cunningham scored 17.5 points per game. She started in all 31 games. We can expect her to be the 35th member of the 1000 point club for Mizzou as she’s already at 989 career points (the second most of any Tiger sophomore in program history). She shoots 84.1% from free throw (3rd best in program history) and is shooting 36.8% from three-point (6th best in program history). In 31 games, she reached double figures 26 times (scoring in excess of 30 three times).
Expect Cunningham to be the key piece in this offense again - not just in terms of points. As we’ve seen in the past, when Cunningham isn’t getting her shots to fall, she will do everything she can to assist and help move the ball around the court. She’ll be the motivating voice for the team, something she previously did with her sister. After last year’s improvements, and knowing she was working through the back injury, it’s easy to get excited about what this year can hold, assuming she remains injury free (although, she did leave the exhibition game against Southwest Baptist in the first half with an injured hand, which was later to revealed to just be bruised).
Cierra Porter - The next best returning player (and part of the four Porter members we have across basketball teams - that’s still fun to say), Porter was a 2nd team all SEC preseason pick and like Cunningham, the hope is that she can continue to remain healthy. In her career at Mizzou, she’s fought lingering knee injuries and had foot surgery after her freshman year. Despite this, she has continued to be a presence on the court.
As a sophomore, Porter started all 33 games with an average of 13.2 points per game. She shot 79.9% at the charity stripe, led the team in rebounds with 266 (averaging 8.1 per game) and had 45 blocked shots. Porter scored in double figures in 26 of 33 games last year, with 15 of these games occurring in the first 15 games. Similar to Cunningham, many of Porter’s achievements have her ranked for the Tigers (sixth in career free throw, ninth in career rebounding average).
Porter has been limited in practices this summer and what she can do, as the result of a balky knee. Pingeton admitted that there’s limited time on her knee and that they are working to be mindful of where they use her and when they use her. The goal for this year is to keep her healthy and her knee strong enough to continue the steady presence that she has provided on the court. The hope is to see her continuing to post the numbers from last year, even if she has limited playing time.
Jordan Frericks - The most exciting addition to the starting lineup is Frericks. As good as Cunningham was her freshman season, including setting the Mizzou single game scoring record, calculating game scores from that season will tell you that Frericks was often Mizzou’s best player. In her junior season, Frericks became the 33rd member of the Mizzou 1000 point club. She averaged 12.1 points a game (shooting 55 percent from the floor), team-high 7.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, scoring in double figures in 21 games. Frericks’ effort was rewarded with a spot on the All SEC Second Team.
Even bigger things were expected of Frericks last year, but her season was wiped out after she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. Frericks presence was missed last year by the Tigers, even as they did well and proceeded to the tournament – she’s a tremendous rebounder and an adept post scorer. Even though she is only 6’1”, she provides a physical post presence who fearlessly mixes it up on inside. She’s been working on her mid-range game, adding an enhanced face-up game to her repertoire.
After spending the last year watching film and growing in the sport from that sense, Frericks hopes that she will be able to control her foul trouble this year, studying what it was that often got her in trouble. Her presence will give the Tigers a much more physical inside presence, working the floor with Porter.
Amber Smith - After starting the first ten games of her freshman season, Smith came off the bench for the remainder and earned SEC co-Freshman of the Year honors, giving Mizzou back-to-back conference freshman of the year winners for the first time since 1996 and 1997. After helping to fill the Frericks-sized hole in the frontcourt, Smith moves back to her natural guard position. Despite the season she had, she revealed that she initially felt she did not fit in playing with Mizzou and felt she had picked the wrong sport, and that was before she was asked to fill a role she was not used to.
Despite playing out of position, she averaged 5.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in her freshman debut. She played in all 33 games her freshman year. She finished her freshman year with 195 points, 92 rebounds and 21 assists. She led Mizzou in field goal percentage during SEC play (53.%) and three-point percentage (51.9%). She also found herself named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and received an invite to the USA Women’s U19 World Cup Team. Clearly, she belongs in this sport despite previous worries.
Smith is expected to emerge as a dual-threat guard, similar to Cunningham:
“She’s going to kind of be like a big guard,” Sophie Cunningham said. “She can post up little guards. Or if the post is on her, she can take it out to the perimeter and beat them to the basket or shoot the 3. Anywhere you put Amber on the court, she’s going to be a threat.”
In this offseason, she worked on ball-handling skills and learning how to come off of screens. Smith feels more freedom in the role and being able to pick her shots. There also seems to be better comfort in her role with the team, after a year of learning the system and working with the other players.
Lauren Aldridge transferred from KU last year and sat out this season. Apparently during this season, she decided to go above and beyond on the school front - not only will she have two more years of eligibility going forward, but she is going to Mizzou Law while playing basketball. No academic slacking here. Of course, graduate students that are athletes will take far fewer hours - but still. RMN staff lawyer (j/k) dezeerae is blown away. KMIZ did a video about her law school dreams that you can check out. You can also read about her adjustment to law school here (dezeerae: also girl, don’t worry, we all cried at some point that 1L year).
But who is Aldridge as a player? Courtesy of Mizzou’s roster page, you have to be fairly impressed. Her freshman year with Kansas, she started all 32 games and had a team-leading average of 5 assists, 35 minutes, 8.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. The 5 assists also had her ranked third in the Big 12. Her performance earned her recognition on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team and she was an Academic All-Big 12 Rookie honoree. Her sophomore year - she started all 31 games. While her average points and minutes went up (11.1 and 35.3), her assists, rebounds, and steals all went down (2.4, 1.8, 0.9). Her 11.1 points per game and 2.4 assists was a team high for the Jawhawks though (who went 6-25). Aldridge made the first-team Academic All Big 12 Selection after the year. Her 3-point range percentage was 35.5 percent and had a total of 60 3’s made. It’s necessary to point out that between her freshman and sophomore year, there was a change in coaches and Aldridge found herself playing the 2 more than the point guard.
Needless to say, Aldridge is aware of her weaknesses and clearly has taken steps to work on this. As she told Jason Yarnell:
“Absolutely. In fact, my dad and I have already sat down and made a list of things that I need to get better at between now and the next time I put on a Mizzou jersey. For starters, I think that my midrange game needs to get better. That’s like pull-up jumpers, floaters, everything in between. I think I can really improve on that. And then one of my bread and butters of basketball is being able to shoot the 3, and you can always, always, always spend more time in the gym perfecting your shot and getting extra shots up.
From a leadership standpoint, one thing I’m working on is being able to lead people in different ways and learning what motivates some people is different from what motivates others. Learning how to reach different girls different ways is something I’m going to try to work on this year, too.”
And here’s what Coach Pingeton had to say upon Aldridge signing:
“We are very excited to have Lauren join our basketball family,” Missouri Coach Robin Pingeton said in a news release. “She is going to be a great addition. Lauren is such a high-character young lady that embraces hard work. She has had great success on the court and in the classroom. Her natural position is at point guard, but she has the ability to slide over into a shooting guard role as well. She has a high basketball IQ, a motor, and she is a fierce competitor.”
You can read more about Aldridge here.
Jordan Chavis - Chavis was a good bounce of energy off the bench her freshman year, playing in all 33 games. She averaged 3.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, while shooting 32.2% from the perimeter and 75% from the free throw line. She reached double figures in five games and made multiple 3-pointers multiple times. Most memorable was her buzzer-beating half court shot against Ole Miss in February. This year should see Chavis providing needed relief from the bench when Aldridge needs a break and to hopefully see her scoring improve as well.
Hannah Schuchts - Schuchts played in all 33 games last year, earning two starts. She averaged 1.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.7 blocked shots in 10 minutes per game. Schuchts had been red-shirted in 2015-2016, and for me personally, I expected her production to be a little more coming into the year. The development was only highlighted by the injuries that plagued the team last year, forcing her into a situation that she wasn’t prepared for. This year, we should hope to see Schuchts make more progress towards the mean, while being realistic that not everyone will play like Frericks and Porter.
Kayla (McDowell) Michael - While it will take us a while to get used to the name change, Michael got married in June 2017 to Cam Michael, who played basketball at Air Force and Northern Colorado but retired after multiple concussions. Michael was another who suffered injuries, missing the first part of the season due to a hamstring injury (Michael also suffered a torn ACL in her sophomore season). Despite this, she still played 22 games, averaged 2.1 rebounds, 0.9 points, and 0.5 assists in 8.4 minutes off the bench. Michael poses to be a threat off of the bench and in both of the exhibition games, she’s been in the top 3 for points scored and for rebounds (she scored a combined 19 points and 19 rebounds).
Jordan Roundtree - Roundtree played in 25 games last season, averaging 0.8 points and 0.9 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game. Over the two exhibition games, Roundtree averaged 6.5 points in 13.5 minutes, potentially pointing toward a bigger contribution this season providing backcourt depth, perhaps playing a role similar to the one Chavis did last season. (Roundtree was inadvertently left off the original version of this article. We apologize for the error.)
Elle Brown - Brown is the daughter of former Mizzou track star and Olympic silver medalist Natasha Brown. After playing her first three years of high school in Iowa, she played her senior year at Rock Bridge. In high school, she received Class 5 Missouri all-state honors. Pingeton expects Brown to become her point guard, but the hope should be that Aldridge remains healthy enough and out of foul trouble, along with Chavis as a back-up, that we don’t see a lot from Brown this year, giving her time to refine her skills coming out of high school.
Nadia Green - Green has wanted to play basketball in the SEC since she was little, and now she gets her chance. She played multiple positions for Homewood-Flossmoor near Chicago, filling up all the columns in the box score while doing so.
Kelsey Winfrey - A 5’9” guard, Winfrey was an all-state honoree who played in Lebanon, MO. In high school, she had 2,052 career points and currently holds 21 school records. An all-around athlete, she qualified for the state meet in cross country and ran the 800m in track. Like Sophie Cunningham, she kicked for her high school football team.
Emmanuelle Tahane - Tahane (6’1”) was a late pick up for the Tigers. She comes to Mizzou with more than three years of experience playing for French National Teams as a forward. Pingeton and staff had never seen Tahne in person until she arrived in Missouri, but had received video of her. As seems to be the trend for the Tigers, she had offseason foot surgery, but she has recovered enough to average 13 minutes per game in the exhibitions. Pingeton believes she’ll become a factor in the rotation.
Mizzou will potentially face eight opponents in their schedule that had advanced to the postseason in 2016-17, with four of them playing in the NCAA tournament. Seven of these matchups are with programs that had at least 20 wins a season ago.
Mizzou has already played their two exhibition games, topping Southwest Baptist 77-55 and absolutely annihilating McKendree 80-30, with 31 of the points coming in the first quarter. That’s right - Mizzou scored more in the first quarter than McKendree did in the entire game.
The season starts for the Tigers this Friday against Western Kentucky at the Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa. Western Kentucky won 27 games last season, claimed Conference USA regular season and tournament titles on their way to the NCAA tournament.
The home opener is set for November 16th, when Mizzou will take on Wright State (who are coming off a 25-win season and an appearance in the WNIT).
Below is the non-conference schedule (bold designates home game):
Nov. 2 vs. Southwest Baptist (exh.) (W 77-55)
Nov. 6 vs. McKendree (exh.) (W 80-30)
Nov. 10 vs. Western Kentucky (Hawkeye Challenge)
Nov. 11 vs. Iowa OR Quinnipiac (Hawkeye Challenge)
Nov. 16 vs. Wright State
Nov. 19 at Missouri State
Nov. 24 vs. Coppin State (Cal Classic)
Nov. 25 vs. California OR Manhattan (Cal Classic)
Nov. 30 vs. Kansas State
Dec. 2 vs. New Orleans
Dec. 8 vs. Saint Louis
Dec. 10 vs. SIU-Edwardsville
Dec. 17 vs. Indiana (West Palm Invitational)
Dec. 18 vs. Xavier (West Palm Invitational)
Dec. 22 vs. Illinois