The college basketball season is officially underway as Missouri got their 2019-2020 campaign started off on the right note with an 82-42 win over Incarnate Word.
For a football season that hasn’t gone quite as planned in Columbia, a lot of the fan base’s attention has turned to the hardwood. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because this year’s Missouri team has the potential to be all sorts of intriguing. It is not time to give up on the Mizzou football season just yet, but 5-3 through eight games isn’t what anyone envisioned.
This basketball season can offer up new hope for Missouri fans. That’s the beauty of college sports. Unlike football, outside expectations on the court aren’t so high, and that could ultimately be a good thing.
From being picked to finish 13th in SEC to coming in 39th in KenPom and 13th in Bart Torvik preseason rankings, there is certainly a wide range of expectations. Missouri even showed up in the receiving votes area for the AP preseason Top 25, albeit only from one voter.
However, being picked in the bottom of the SEC the last couple of seasons has its perks. Of course, preseason predictions are totally meaningless, but especially recently in SEC basketball. In 2017, Tennessee was picked to finish 13th and the Vols finished tied for first. Last season, Ole Miss was picked to finish dead last in the conference and finished sixth with an NCAA Tournament berth. Ultimately, that’s about the area the Tigers should shoot for this season, and they are more than capable of doing so.
For the crowd that isn’t expecting much from Missouri this season, the Tigers will have a real opportunity to surprise some people, and that’s the fun part. Here’s why:
This is a roster to get excited about
There’s only one senior on this roster— Reed Nikko. And that may not be a great thing relying for experience solely for this season, but it just feels like Cuonzo Martin is building something special with this young core of talent to work with. In the last two injury-riddled seasons, Martin has gotten the most out of his teams. 20 wins and making the NCAA Tournament in year one was a pleasant surprise, and while year two was a disappointing 15-17 mark, this team showed flashes of what they can be going forward.
Of course, the biggest keys to this season are Jeremiah Tilmon staying on the court and seeing how Dru Smith’s game translates to SEC play. Kobe Brown, Tray Jackson, and Mario McKinney, Jr. are going to be an intriguing freshman trio to watch. This team has the depth, but can’t afford any serious injuries to their major contributors.
There might not be a five-star lottery pick on the roster this time around, but that ultimately may be a good thing, as Cuonzo Martin is trying to develop some sustainability with 3-4 star kids.
This is a schedule that will provide plenty of opportunity
The non-conference slate features some intriguing games against Xavier, Butler, Oklahoma or Stanford, Temple, West Virginia, and of course Braggin’ Rights against Illinois. While that isn’t exactly a murderers’ row, it will provide a lot of chances of resume building wins to make the case for an NCAA Tournament bid. That’s a win-win situation.
Missouri went 10-2 in the non-conference in 2017, and 9-3 last season. A similar record this season would put the Tigers in good position for an NCAA Tournament bid heading into SEC play.
And speaking of SEC play, Missouri’s first three games IS a murderers’ row. I’m not sure there’s any team in the country that has a tougher three-game stretch to start conference play, as the Tigers get Kentucky at Rupp (!), as well as Tennessee and Florida right out of the gate. Fortunately for Missouri, they’ll get those three teams just once and early. The SEC is becoming one of the best power-five conferences in college basketball, so just about every league win is going to look good on an NCAA Tournament resume.
Missouri is a basketball program that should be an NCAA Tournament contender consistently. And Cuonzo Martin is the right coach that can get this done. Year three in the era is going to be an important one, and Martin has the right tools to take Missouri to March Madness for the second time in his tenure. That’s something he couldn’t do at Missouri State, Tennessee, or California.
The outside expectations around this program this season aren’t high, and that’s okay. They are certainly going to be playing with a chip on their shoulders.
For a football season that hasn’t gone quite as planned, college basketball season is officially here, and it can offer new hope. This team is going to be fun to watch.