Each season starts anew and you never know what it will bring.
You hope your team stays healthy and they play well, hope they avoid long stretches of inefficient play, but mostly you just want to enjoy the season. Inevitably nearly everyone’s season ends the same way. One way or another it ends in a loss.
But not this year. Despite no post-season ban, and because of the concerns wrapped around the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus, Missouri Basketball will finish its season with a win for the first time since 1991. That season Mizzou was banned from post-season play following recruiting and record keeping violations by Norm Stewart and his assistants. Mizzou still participated in the Big 8 tournament, and won it, defeating Nebraska in the final.
1991 is 29 years ago.
Last Saturday night Cuonzo Martin and his Mizzou Basketball team walked off the floor after defeating Alabama to finish the regular season. It was senior night, and a pretty joyous occasion. But the mission wasn’t done as there was still basketball to be played.
Until there wasn’t.
The SEC canceled the mens basketball tournament early yesterday morning. Not long after, the NCAA canceled the NCAA tournament and any remaining winter and spring championships. And just like that... it’s over.
This season didn’t go a planned
It’s entirely possible Missouri’s season would have ended last night anyway. They had yet to beat a weirdly resilient Texas A&M squad in two opportunities this year, but were missing Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith for most of those two games. To call the season and this team a little uneven would be coming up short.
The hot and cold nature of the Tigers’ play was equally exhilarating and infuriating, if you let it be. I wrote more at length about Mizzou’s hot and cold nature previously, but let’s get caught up in the game score discussion (all numbers courtesy of BartTorvik.com)... here are the game scores on the full season:
- 90+: 7-0 (Incarnate Word, NKU, SIU, Illinois, Chicago State, Florida, Auburn, Alabama)
- 80-89: 4-1 (Wofford, Temple, Arkansas (H), LSU, Vanderbilt)
- 70-79: 2-2 (Morehead State, Xavier, Ole Miss (H), Arkansas (A))
- 60-69: 0-1 (Kentucky)
- 50-59: 1-2 (Alabama, Georgia, Miss State)
- 40-49: 0-3 (Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia)
- 30-39: 0-2 (Butler, Texas A&M (H), Ole Miss)
- 20-29: 0-0
- 10-19: 0-2 (South Carolina, Texas A&M (A))
- 0-9: 0-2 (Charleston Southern, Miss State)
Nine games with a GameScore below 50, 12 games with a GameScore above 80. Missouri was 11-1 when they played well, 3-5 when they played okay, and 0-9 when playing bad. Most teams are going to lose when they play bad and win when they play well, but the number of times you play bad becomes a larger part of the problem.
And it proved to be Missouri’s achilles heel this season. They played poorly way too much.
As an example, in 2017-18, Missouri played games of below a 50 game score just six times (once in the NCAA tournament) with three of those games being 40 or higher, and nothing worse than a 20.
If the current roster had that same performance this team is a lot closer to an NCAA tournament team than not.
So... what now?
Is it scholarship graphic time yet? Sure, why not?
Missouri obviously has the one scholarship vacating with Reed Nikko, and no other planned exits. There’s still a question for how the NCAA will handle eligibility with the number of seniors who are exiting college without the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. I have a hard time imagining the NCAA granting another year of eligibility to a whole group of players across all their sports, but I guess it’s a story worth monitoring.
But until I hear different, I’m going to accept this was the last we’ve seen of Reed Nikko.
Nikko stepped up in a big way. Reed started 20 games as a senior, with Tilmon struggling with injuries, the Tigers leaned on Big ‘Sota.
Can Missouri replace Nikko with guys currently on the roster? Or can we expect those sort of minutes from Jordan Wilmore?
At this point you certainly hope Jeremiah Tilmon comes back. He’s proven, and over the last few games you’re able to see he’s capable of providing so much for this team.
But there’s still a scholarship to play with, and Mizzou is in need of a consistent wing scorer.
There was enough growth from Xavier Pinson, and flashes from Kobe Brown and Tray Jackson, plus the consistency of Dru Smith, that gives you hope there’s the right pieces to build around. I’d like to see a little more consistency from Pinson, some consistent health from Mark Smith, and a more dynamic wing scorer who is capable of making shots with a little more frequency than the wings currently on the roster.
I don’t want to discount Javon Pickett and Mitchell Smith. Both have proven their value. But neither have shown to be anything more than bonus scoring. If it happens then great. You’re not going to count on it. Missouri needs a consistent reliable scorer and I’m not sure the guy they need is on the roster right now.
So we head into an offseason of relative uncertainty, despite so much certainty on the roster
From the outside looking in, it would appear the roster is mostly set. There’s definitely some room for movement, but with the NCAA shutting down and canceling March Madness, the possibility of some favorable or unfavorable wrenches being thrown into the mix is always possible.
How Missouri fills its last scholarship, or any subsequent scholarships, is going to be really important for fan faith going into next season. The rocky up-and-down natures of the last two years have left some in the Mizzou fan base waiting to see a little more tangible evidence of an upward trajectory for the program.
The 2021 recruiting class is important, and the offseason of recruiting and roster building is important. But next season is an important one for the program, as it’s one where you want to see Cuonzo Martin’s plan take shape, and see Mizzou Basketball step into the upper tier of the SEC and back into a returning NCAA tournament.