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So close and yet still far away

The Mizzou Hoops roster was patched over last year, but maybe that delayed the extent of the rebuild.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou is close to being pretty good this year.

If only Jontay Porter had not injured his knee Mizzou would be better and possibly in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.

If only Evansville had cooperated and allowed Dru Smith to be eligible Mizzou's depth and experience at guard would have been enough to get them over the hump this season.

If only Mark Smith hadn’t injured his ankle and lost six games maybe the Tigers can overcome their second half collapses against LSU and Texas A&M which could have given them more momentum into Ole Miss game, they would have won five SEC games prior to the game against the Rebels.

If only they’d have found a way against Temple, get to 15-8 before yesterday and the mood around Columbia is one of rooting excitement.

This is how close they are, dependent on your glass being half full of course. The glass could always be half empty and Missouri finds ways to lose to Kennesaw State, UCF, and Arkansas and they’re 9-15.

After yesterday’s loss to Ole Miss the Tigers sit squarely at .500, with a visit from the Kentucky Wildcats looming.

The Tigers are in the 90’s in KenPom, they turn the ball over, struggle with consistency on offense and do not generate offense from the free throw line. They’re not awful defensively but far from elite. They’re an incredibly flawed team with little depth or experience, and these flaws are being played out in conference play.

Take yesterday against Ole Miss, if you remove Jordan Geist from the game how much of a blowout is it? Where would this season be without Geist, who has willed this young roster as far as he could and without much help on more nights than I’d care to mention.

We don’t yet know what Cuonzo Martin’s ceiling is as a coach, but the advantage of Martin was we pretty much knew his floor also. Martin has spent one season under .500 as a head coach and just three winning less than 20 games. With some semblance of stability in Columbia, Martin opted to forgo the roster patches of grad transfers and work on the foundation by going for freshmen and supplemental transfers. And while it’s mostly backfilled a troubled roster, it’s still left the team bereft of players ready for immediate contributions.

So much so that Cuonzo Martin was able to award Ronnie Suggs a scholarship for the remainder of the year and summer, with a potential for the scholarship to continue into next season.

The roster improves slightly next year with a couple of incoming freshmen joining the ranks and most think Tray Jackson could be severely under-ranked, plus the eligibility of Dru Smith should improve ball handling.

Missouri has two roster spots available if Martin chooses to free up the ‘ship Suggs is currently on. They’re pursuing Myron Gardner, a wing from Spire Academy in Ohio, and Harlond Beverly, a combo guard from Monteverde Academy, to round out their class of 2019. Both are exciting prospects and should add more depth, but considering the contributions of the current freshmen crop it’d be wrong to expect too much from them.

This speaks a bit to the reality of the situation. Slow roster bleed over the course of six or so years, coupled with a disastrous hire of Kim Anderson led us here. Martin was fortunate to blend some great shooters into the roster last year and ride talented freshmen bigs into the NCAA tournament, limping all the way to the finish. This year there was hope Jontay Porter could patch over a lot of the holes in the roster. Without him, reality was exposed.

No matter how the rest of this season plays out, if Mizzou is met with more disappointing losses or maybe a few unexpected wins, the path forward is going to be a bit slower than maybe we’d hoped. If the Tigers can finish this season .500 maybe that’s the big win for the season. But we’re here because as Martin himself said to Ben Fredrickson:

“It’s going to work itself out,” he continued. “When you have a program that is building, let it build. Be a part of that building process. Because when we are cutting nets down, you can say, ‘I was a part of that.’”

Cutting down nets? No, the steam was not going to Martin’s head. He had not forgotten his Tigers are 12-11 headed into Saturday’s road game against Ole Miss. Martin was talking about the big picture. He sees it. He hopes others do, too.

I don’t know if Martin is the answer to the program finally cutting down nets, but I do know the program he was left with needed a huge rebuild of the foundation and I can certainly see where he’s trying to go.


I’ll have a Study Hall for tomorrow. I just feel it’s good to occasionally take stock of where things are. There’s still hope this season and guys to be excited about. There’s the last few games for Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear, and I think it’s important to send those guys off right. Geist has been an excellent ambassador, and Puryear is still a program guy despite his offensive struggles this year. Both should get big send offs.

BTW, the women play today in a big time home game against Tennessee, trying to extend their hot streak after last Thursday’s HUGE win over Mississippi State. They’re currently in 4th place behind MSU, South Carolina, and Texas A&M. They’ll need a win to keep ahead of Kentucky.

The men’s next game is Tuesday night against Kentucky. They’re retiring Derrick Chievous’ #3 jersey that night. Might be a good time to show up.