Today marks the beginning of the NCAA tournament (well, ok, technically the play-in games started Tuesday, but you get the point). A year ago, on March 15, 2017, the Missouri Tigers basketball program made news.
When Mizzou hired Cuonzo Martin as its head basketball coach, there was skepticism, and rightfully so. Martin had a reputation as a guy who could build a solid foundation but hadn’t shown a real high ceiling in his three stops prior. But what would happen over the next few weeks would change that ceiling dramatically.
Lorenzo Romar was fired, opening up the door for Michael Porter Sr. and his super elite prodigy son Michael Porter Jr. to make their way back to Columbia and join the rebuild.
The blur of the next few months was nothing short of astonishing. Kevin Knox, Jeremiah Tilmon, Blake Harris, C.J. Roberts, Jontay Porter, Torrence Watson, Border War renewal, and Vegas odds ... Knox aside (he ended up at Kentucky), just about every news story broke for the Tigers.
Then, a curveball.
A back injury sidelined the prodigal son, and expectations began to wane a bit. But something funny happened along the way. In the face of waning expectations sans MPJ, Martin just snarled. Cuonzo Martin was built to hit the curve.
Missouri’s season wasn’t without its bumps. An ugly road loss to Utah, an embarrassing loss in Braggin’ Rights to Illinois, two separate three-game losing streaks, two freshman guards transferring, one junior guard dismissed in the midst of a Title IX investigation*, another junior guard out for the season with an ACL tear.
Through it all, Martin clenched his jaw and kept working. And the impressionable Tigers followed his lead.
A year ago, Mizzou needed a miracle comeback in Nashville in the SEC tournament to win an eighth game. Today, they sit in a hotel in Nashville, winners of 20 games and 10 in SEC play, getting ready to play in the NCAA tournament.
They’ve done it without Michael Porter Jr., and with help from unlikely contributors. But they’ve mostly done it with a team showing the same dogged determination reflected by their coach. They scratch and claw and fight tooth and nail and ... every other metaphor.
Tomorrow the script changes because now they have to do this with MPJ.
No matter what happens tomorrow, it’s pretty wild that we are where we are.
*ht to Chris Bohkay for noting this miss by the author.