At this point, it feels redundant to describe how exciting tomorrow is. Not only is it the start of a genuinely feel-good weekend around Columbia (the Norm statue going up, Mizzou continuing its second half turnaround, etc.), but it’s the rejuvenation of a basketball program that’s been about as low as low can be for the past three years. Rarely - if ever - will you ever see a basketball stadium sell out season tickets after a 3-year win total of 24. But this is not an ordinary year, nor an ordinary team.
It’s been encouraging to see the buy in from the fan base as a whole. Sure, the expectations may be hard to pin down, but I think everyone will be happy just to see a competitive team take the floor again. We can deal with the hopes and dreams at a later date. For now, let’s just enjoy some good basketball.
But before we get there, we have one more position group to talk about. We’ve covered almost the entire roster, even before Coach Martin threw a wrench in our expectations yesterday. But for now things seem pretty set on the post, which is where we turn our attention now.
Sophomore - Reed Nikko
Statistical Profile (2016-2017)
|Effective FG %||50.9|
|Defensive Rebound %||14.7|
|Offensive Rebound %||8.3|
Freshmen - Jeremiah Tilmon, Jontay Porter
After much thought and prayer I have decided to commit to the University of Missouri! pic.twitter.com/dO1LKYR3iX— Jontay Porter (@JontayPorter) May 23, 2017
1. Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter are carrying 5-star expectations - even though Tilmon was a 4-star when he signed - on a team that has been size-challenged the past few years. How do these two change the game for Mizzou when they’re down low?
Sam Snelling - The expectations grew on top of that when Tilmon came out like gangbusters against Kansas also. The reality is all three of these guys are young bigs. But Tilmon and Porter in particular are brimming with talent and are the two most naturally gifted post players to put on a Mizzou uniform in a long time. Realizing their potential is something we're hoping to see, and the sooner it happens, the higher the expectations become for the Tigers. If Tilmon is able to stay out of foul trouble, each can provide a different look as Porter is more skilled and suited for a faceup game while Tilmon is more of a traditional back to the basket guy. I think you'll see them together here and there, but mostly they'll spell each other.
Chris Bohkay - The addition of these two guys changes everything and makes what Cuonzo is trying to do that much easier. These guys - hopefully staying out of foul trouble - will be able to create open shots for the wings, leading teams to have to play honest defense, something no one has had to do against Mizzou in years. Everyone is better when they are on the floor and not on the bench.
Jarrett Sutton - Alex Oriakhi is the last player I can think of that was a dominant center that could alter the game on both ends of the floor. Laurence Bowers was the last player that had a knack for touch with his shot, the ability to use the glass, and the ability and length to tip dunk on an opposition. We haven’t had anyone really since then, outside of the potential of Jakeenan Gant that never prospered. Tilmon takes pieces of all three of those guys and combines it with a motor and a physicality that this program hasn’t seen in a long time. In practice sessions, and against Kansas, you see that he’s ahead of schedule and has changed his body already since arriving on campus with Director of Athletic Performance Nicodemus Christopher.
Josh Matejka - I think both talents speak for themselves. Tilmon is a big, physical, aggressive post player who also shows soft touch and awareness near the bucket. The “rim protector” label comes with the territory, but he also has the ability to become a true offensive weapon as a guy who can battle for offensive boards, use his athleticism to catch lobs and surprise defenders with skilled shooting near the hoop. Jontay is almost on the other end of the spectrum, a guy with whose skill is often complemented by his size. He’s got the passing ability, basketball IQ and the makings of a shot to be a lethal stretch forward. But his length and size also means he’ll be able to give good minutes in the paint. Mizzou hasn’t had a post combo like this in... well, since before I was born.
Matt Harris - We’ve beaten the comparison to death, but Tilmon can be Jameel McKay, and Jontay Porter can occupy the role of Georges Niang in this Iowa State-inspired system. It seems odd to say, but Jontay’s perimeter game feels farther along. He can handle the ball a bit, pass it well and is comfortable working in pick-and-rolls. He just fits what this offense expects of a combo forward. As we saw from Tilmon in the Showdown for Relief, he’s a load when he’s engaged. Against a strong post defender in Uboka Azuibuike, he finished through contact at the rim and won 50-50 battles for rebound. But he also flashed a soft touch and reliable hands. He’ll need those taking dump-offs in the short corner and corralling lobs. Both have to acclimate to the college game, but their skillsets would ideally mesh in this system.
2. Reed Nikko is still largely unproven, but he’ll might have to cover some minutes at some point if fouling becomes an issue. What are you expecting out of the sophomore big man?
Sam - Nikko won't be asked to do much. He's big and more mobile than he's given credit for. But Reed isn't a threat offensively, so you probably won't see him in the game for long stretches. But as a defender and shot alterer around the basket he has a good amount of value.
Bohkay - Honestly, just the continued progression of a big man. He was able to get in the air well last year, so if can continue to be a blocking machine and grab rebounds, that's great. He's not going to be relied upon to be a scorer out there this season, so just play good D and when the ball gets thrown to you down low, go up strong, don't be tentative.
Jarrett - I’m not expecting much, but I am expecting him to get minutes when it becomes a way to spare minutes or hold things afloat with guys in foul trouble. If Nikko can contest shots, provide resistance on the interior, move his feet without fouling, and provide the ability to dunk balls off drop off passes, or lobs to the rim where he shows he can finish or get to the free throw line, he’ll continue playing in a spotted backup role. The key is converting at the free throw line and being confident that he belongs on the floor.
Matejka - I think I’m expecting more than most, because if you look at Nikko’s numbers from last year, you’ll learn he was a surprisingly effective player. I don’t know why KA didn’t give him more time, but Nikko is a guy who does exactly what you want him to do: be an obstacle, grab rebounds and make easy buckets. I’m not saying he’s going to get a lot of minutes per game, but he will certainly be a nice option to turn to when Tilmon struggles with fouls. As long as he does those things well, I’ll be thrilled with whatever other development Cuonzo can pull from him.
Matt - There’s risk at reading too much into small sample sizes, but Nikko’s offensive rebound percentage was the best on the roster last year. He was also solid when asked to finish at the rim, making 25 of 37 shots in the paint. So Martin may have a guy who hits the boards, finishes when he gets the chance and will lend Mizzou more bodies when it has to face a foe like Texas A&M, which has a deep well of talent on the front line.
3. When Cuonzo Martin signed on at Mizzou, he’d built his reputation on building defensive stalwarts. Does this group fit with the type of defensive unit Martin is trying to build?
Sam - Martin has preferred more traditional lineups and this roster affords him the ability to play multiple bigs at the same time. He's always wanted his teams to rebound and one of the fun parts of the Kansas game was watching Mizzou absolutely beat up Kansas on the glass. So having bigs like Jontay and Tilmon, plus size at other positions with MPJ, Jordan Barnett and others, Mizzou is going to really be a formidable team inside. They aren't going to lose the rebounding battle very often.
Bohkay - Both Jontay and Tilmon are skilled, if raw, big men. Any tutelage that Cuonzo can impart will only make them better. Harnessing their ability and helping them to play under control only makes them that much better. Imagine how scary the front court could be if these two can stay out of foul trouble...
Jarrett - Post defense is about positioning, having a will and a drive to defend, and being smart while being physical. It’s easy to be overly physical that puts yourself and your team in a bad spot. With that becomes the fundamentals of footwork, post defensive coverages on what guards will dig on the low block and where will the double occur. I don’t think it’s one particularly thing that makes post defense effective. Sure, you have to have the bodies, length, and size, but it still comes down to being fundamentally sound and using proper technique.
Matejka - Similar to what I said above, Tilmon and Jontay are two different players in this regard. While Tilmon is the more traditional post defender, Jontay is going to be a guy who uses his length as a disruptor. He’s got a good sense of where the ball is going, as evidenced by the fact he always seems to be getting in passing lanes. They’re both raw players, but I’ve got confidence Martin will be able to bring out the best in them. Nikko is similar to Tilmon in that his size and strength make him a formidable physical opponent. He’s not as quick or skilled as Jeremiah, but he’s certainly no pushover.
Matt - Tilmon can be an intimidating presence, albeit a bit overzealous at times. Porter is an excellent positional defender who knows how to wall up and use his length. His basketball IQ is also high enough that you can rely on him to cover up for mistakes made by wings on the perimeter. Nikko may not be an elite athlete, but he’s got bulk and the ability to take a shoulder square in the chest. Martin’s defense relies on players being smart and steely. He just so happens to have three post players that possess the traits to meet what he demands.
4. Obviously there’s a question of experience when your two best players have never played a minute of Division 1 basketball. Are there other questions besides experience that trouble you about the post this year?
Sam - The big question is if Tilmon can control his fouling, and if Jontay is going to be physically ready to compete. I think Jontay is there from a skill standpoint, but at his size he was able to easily matchup with players his own age. That changes now. Nikko is who he is right now so I'm comfortable with what he'll be asked to do when he's put in the game. But it's a much better position to be in than a year ago.
Bohkay - Not as such. We've not had one, much less two, talented big men on this team since Ricardo and he was more of a 4 than a 5, so I'm just excited to see them out there and hopefully not on the bench with 8 fouls between them.
Jarrett - Jontay is crucial to this team, and he’ll have to grow up quick. He’s a perfect weapon in that he can shoot it when his feet are set, he’s a terrific offensive rebounder, and he can provide resistance on the defensive end. I do think it’d be icing on the cake if they could get productive and effective minutes out of Reed Nikko. That’s a player that will get an opportunity by the position he plays and the personnel you have currently on your roster. What rotations you play, how you package different personal groups is tough for Reed because he’s a back-to-the-basket low post center, as opposed to a position-less center that can step out.
Matejka - For Tilmon, it’s obviously the fouls. I like that Martin describes him as “a quick learner” because fouling is about learning when your positioning is wrong and how other players will use that to their advantage. And with Jontay, I’m worried about how long it’ll take him to settle into his role. He’s not been shy about the fact he’s never been “the guy,” but he also will be needed as more than a stretch 4 on this team. Mizzou will need him down low just as much, and I want to see how he adjusts to that being the focus of his game. And finally with Nikko, can he stay healthy? He’s proven he’s effective when he’s playing. He just needs to stay unimpaired.
Matt - How quickly do they adapt to the physicality and pace of the game? As we’ve seen, Tilmon is already foul-prone. And while Jontay Porter’s suite of skills is advanced, he’s still skipping his last year of high school. Fans are expecting the duo to be reliable components on an NCAA tournament team, but that’s only possible if they acclimate quickly.
5. Give us your one-sentence preview for each player.
Sam - Jeremiah Tilmon can be the biggest different maker.
While Jontay Porter can be more than a shot taker.
Reed Nikko might only be thrown in as a breaker.
Bohkay - Jontay Porter will shoot too many long range jumpers for some.
Jeremiah Tilmon will have as many games he fouls out as double-doubles.
Reed Nikko will block a lot of shots in his minutes.
Jarrett - Jeremiah Tilmon is an athletic, mobile, fluid, and gritty center that has great footwork and explosiveness to (and above) the rim that will make him a force on the interior.
Jontay Porter is young, inexperienced, and still filling into his body while being a high ceiling freshman that has great upside to help this basketball team on both ends of the floor.
Reed Nikko will have to prove himself this year by doing the little things that earn minutes, while showing the toughness, consistency, and ability to stay healthy.
Matejka - Jeremiah Tilmon will completely justify my greatest tweet ever.
All these Illini fans handing out blocks today. You know who else will be handing out blocks?— little thankful josh (@joshmajika) April 5, 2017
Jeremiah Tilmon next year at Mizzou Arena
Jontay Porter will take some time to adjust, but will quickly endear himself to Mizzou fans as a hard worker and future star.
Reed Nikko will do the yeoman’s work of taking out the trash... metaphorically speaking.
Matt - Jeremiah Tilmon will have a lot of dunks and early fouls, quickly toggling between rapture and frustration as we watch him try to find consistency.
Jontay Porter’s a post for now, but as he gets more comfortable he may play more as a combo forward and could move into the starting lineup.
Reed Nikko will rebound, body up opposing bigs and live on putbacks as a stopgap for nights when Tilmon is parked on the bench.
Thanks for reading! And thanks for following along with us in all our preview coverage.