Let’s face it; Missouri’s game against Florida State was a dud. On Friday night, while the rest of the world was watching No. 16 seed UMBC put on an absolute basketball clinic against No. 1 seed Virginia, FSU was cruising to the tune of a 20-point halftime lead in Nashville over the Tigers.
Mizzou clawed back to get the ‘Noles lead down to six, but the shorthanded Tigers simply ran out of steam as FSU went on a 15-0 run to ice the game.
Every Tigers fan knew this turnout was within the realm of possibility. Between Cullen VanLeer tearing his ACL, Jordan Barnett’s DUI , and Michael Porter, Jr. being at only 60-70%, all the ingredients for failure were there. But enough about that game, this piece is about the future.
Expectations are a funny thing when it comes to sports. Before the season starts, we set baseline expectations, and then they rapidly fluctuate during the season to accommodate the product shown on the field of play, or court, in this case.
On March 24, 2017, expectations for Mizzou Basketball went up exponentially when MPJ committed to Missouri, and on November 21, 2017, expectations plummeted when MPJ was ruled out for what we thought would be the rest of the year. The other day, I was asked to sum up this season in one word. I immediately responded, “resilience.”
Let’s hop into the time machine to the most defining moment of this season.
Around 10:00 PM Central Time on January 27, the state of affairs for Mizzou basketball looked pretty bleak (let me first say that the term bleak is relative; if any of you have bothered with Mizzou basketball over the last three years, you know exactly what I mean).
Mizzou had just lost their third straight game against Mississippi State in Starkville, MS, and was staring down the barrel of a potential 3-8 start of conference play. Terrence Phillips was indefinitely suspended due to an ongoing Title IX investigation, further thinning the Tigers at the point guard position, and the upcoming week was a gauntlet of a road trips to Tuscaloosa, Oxford and a home date with national blue blood Kentucky sandwiched in between. With a season that started with such MPJ-sized hype, an NCAA Tournament bid was quickly fading from view.
The Tigers had their collective backs to the wall, and Tigers’ first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin got his team to fight. They ripped off five straight wins, essentially securing their bid into the tourney.
When the Tigers desperately needed a win in the final week of the season, they beat Vanderbilt on the road (which is never easy) and beat a solid Arkansas team, at home, to solidify their bid for good.
All expectations aside, Cuonzo Martin accomplished with this team, despite all the moving parts and distractions, and still managed a top-5 finish in the SEC, which is absolutely remarkable and makes me wonder how he didn’t win SEC Coach of the Year.
If my interpretation of the tea leaves are correct, Martin securing a commitment from vaunted 4-star point guard Courtney Ramey seems like a real possibility with each passing day; but for prediction purposes, I’ll still assume Villanova will land him.
Assuming MPJ leaves and Jontay Porter stays, Missouri’s roster will once again be tourney-ready, with Kevin Puryear, Jeremiah Tilmon, Jordan Geist, Reed Nikko,and Mitchell Smith returning with the new additions of 4-star guard Xavier Pisnon, 3-Star small forward KJ Santos, 4-star shooting Guard Torrence Watson, and Bradley transfer, Ronnie Suggs. This is just the beginning, folks. Cuonzo Martin has this ship going in the right direction. M-I-Z!