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What we all want to see from Missouri basketball in 2019

There’s 12 months of unknown ahead, with a lot of possibility.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The last of 2018 has been covered, and now it’s time to turn all of the attention towards 2019. This is a project we’ve now done three years running. Here are the previous years:

Yeah, I started out workshopping the title and stuck with version two. The first two years, uh, didn’t go well for the hopes and dreams of Missouri fans. Year 3, 2017 was half good. But how did our expectations/hops turn out for year 4?

  • Michael Porter Jr. plays again - Check. Although he clearly wasn’t the same player, it was nice to have a short moment even if meant having MPJ as a shell of his real ability.
  • Make the NCAA Tournament - Check. The trip was short, but getting back to the dance was a huge deal.
  • Limit roster turnover - Check! Mizzou lost Michael Porter Jr to the NBA draft as expected, they also lost Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson to graduation/expiring eligibility as expected. And other than the January transfer of Blake Harris the rest of the team stuck!
  • Land local targets - Well, half of a check. The Tigers landed Mario McKinney, and Michigan native Tray Jackson in their class so far. They did miss out on top target E.J. Liddell.
  • Continue the momentum - The ACL of Jontay Porter declining to stay intact for the duration of the season put a damper on things, but the rest of the team has held server pretty well.

Overall you have to be pleased with the first full calendar year of Cuonzo Martin’s tenure. He built up the baseline of talent in the program, and still found ways to go 19-13 with a team half saddled with injuries and depth issues, and the other half without their top player and a team full of young guys.

Find a way to .500 or better in conference play

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a H-U-G-E opportunity for Missouri this year. If you go by talent, experience, etc the roster the Tigers have is far from the best in conference. There’s a big soft middle in the league this year and the combination of talent and experience in Columbia is likely towards the back of that soft middle. But this is why Jim Sterk hired Cuonzo Martin.

Martin has this team playing tough and together, and there’s reason to think they can exceed their KenPom prediction of 7-11. Their schedule lays out well enough to think this team can get to .500 and beyond. The first goal should be .500, the next step is above, and if you’re above you have reason to believe in making the NCAA tournament.

So that leads us to what’s next.

Get to the NCAA bubble

The SEC doesn’t have the necessary depth for a team to expect to contend for an NCAA tournament win with a .500 record this season. Get to .500 plus 1 and you can starting thinking about it.

If Martin gets this version of the Tigers onto the bubble or even into the NCAA tournament he establishes a baseline for the program and a baseline that you’re at least going to be in the NCAA tournament is an excellent starting salvo for Martin in his tenure.

For the last two things to happen, Missouri needs to start building the kind of profile the committee likes. They need some more quadrant one wins and they have a chance to kick that off Tuesday against Tennessee. If you can find a way to upset the Vols, currently a top five team, you are starting off with a win that nearly completes your resume.

Even if you don’t make the tournament a solid performance in the NIT is something this young team can build upon as they head into the offseason.

Stop the roster bleeding completely

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers expect to lose two seniors to graduation and probably Jontay Porter to the NBA. With one available scholarship and two incoming freshmen signed up, there’s only a couple spots available for next season.

Yesterday we talked about the quiet pace of Mizzou basketball recruiting, with two scholarships available on next years roster and the Tigers needing available space in 2020 for what could be a pretty loaded class, it would make sense for them to look at grad transfers or even sit on an open scholarship because here’s the reality of the where the roster is right now.

mizzou basketball scholarship count 12-29-18

So with just four additions likely (supposing the Tigers don’t lose anyone to transfer) this would be the lowest amount of offseason turnover since the 2011 season.

  • 2018 (Martin): 6 newcomers
  • 2017 (Martin): 6 newcomers
  • 2016 (Anderson): 7 newcomers
  • 2015 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
  • 2014 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
  • 2013 (Haith): 8 newcomers
  • 2012 (Haith): 8 newcomers

Four is a number that’s normal for a healthy program. The Missouri rotation right now is tight and they add Dru Smith next year. The expectation is to get everyone back and keep the rotation tight again. Then the exodus has been stunted and nearly stopped.

Matt and I did some brainstorming the other night and have some more in depth discussion on the roster turmoil coming up, it’s fascinating data and not at all depressing. But the good news is this should be the offseason where the turnover gets limited for the first time in a long time.

Is it too much to ask to land ALL the top targets in the 2020 class?

Basketball: USA Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri and Cuonzo Martin are doing everything possible to land Caleb Love. They’re doing everything possible to land CamRon Fletcher. They’re doing everything possible to land Josh Christopher. These three elite players could form the cornerstone of the kind of team which can push Missouri into the upper echelon of the SEC.

The 2020 class has a chance to be incredibly special for the Tigers, but it’s also easy to say when you fish in the waters of top 50 talent the difficultly in landing those players escalates. Mizzou is fighting all sorts of elite programs with big name coaches, so it won’t be easy. But Cuonzo is making it known to these three players they are wanted and needed at Missouri. Landing one of the three should be considered a huge deal, two of three cause for a parade, landing all three? Build the man a statue. I don’t expect it but it would be a whole lotta fun.

Take a big step forward in the 2019-20 season

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri should return eight of its top 10 next year, add Dru Smith into the rotation, and have signed two four star recruits. We’re watching the foundation being built this season and there’s opportunity for the Tigers to take a big step next season. If the bubble happens, the recruiting happens, the 2019-20 season is the opportunity to step up into the next tier of programs.

From making the tournament into getting a seed in the 4-6 range. Then using that to get even better the following year. The door is open, but the steps have to start this year.