Season Preview: Missouri
Last year: 8-24
Key Losses: Russell Woods
Key Additions: Bake Harris, Jontay Porter, Michael Porter Jr., CJ Roberts, Kassius Robertson, Jeremiah Tilmon
I mean…where do we even begin here? At this point, everyone knows that the Tigers had probably the biggest turnaround of any team maybe ever, going from 8 wins last year to being a probable tournament team this year. That turnaround came courtesy of Cuonzo Martin leaving Cal and taking a nice contract from Missouri and almost immediately flipping the top high school prospect in the country, Michael Porter Jr. MPJ wasn’t the only big addition though. I wrote about how it all came together for Mizzou back in May, but since then, Porter’s younger brother Jontay reclassified from the class of 2018 to 2017, where he was the No. 25 overall prospect and rounding out the Tigers’ No. 4 overall recruiting class.
So that’s what has happened. But what’s going to happen? Missouri certainly looks like they can compete for a top-5 finish in the SEC, but the question will be how this immediate influx of talent settles in under Martin in his first year in Columbia, MO. The frontcourt will likely be the biggest factor in their success. Obviously having five guys that stand 6-10 or higher is fun for any coach, but what might be more fun for Martin is how versatile he can be with his lineups. Porter Jr. can play almost any position on the floor but will likely see most of his time spent as a wing, so his younger brother, a more traditional big man, will partner with junior Kevin Puryear in the post. Both guys are comfortable stepping out and shooting though, so Martin should be able to utilize some small-ball lineups between those three. Jeremiah Tilmon is the closest thing they have to a center, and even though he’ll come off the bench, his post presence will be key for a team that was dreadful guarding the paint last season.
While the frontcourt sans Puryear is seriously lacking in experience, most backcourt members have been around the block. Let’s start with probable starting point guard Terrence Phillips. Phillips, a junior who’s played the most minutes in a Tiger uniform than anyone else on the team, is the heart and soul of the Tigers and, despite his size, is a hard-nosed competitor. His shooting came on towards the end of last season, so continued improvement will allow him to play off ball more now that Mizzou has more capable ball-handlers. The Tigers’ lone senior scholarship players are athletic wings in Jordan Barnett, who played half of last season after transferring from Texas, and Kassius Robertson, a Canisius graduate transfer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc last year. Junior Jordan Geist will get his minutes as he’s the type of defender you love on your team but hate to play against, and Cullen VanLeer is a spot-up shooter who’ll be called upon every now and again. The backcourt isn’t all old heads though. Freshmen Blake Harris and CJ Roberts will likely be two of the first few guys off the bench, as they gain experience for when they find themselves in Phillips’s position.
Missouri is in for an interesting season, one with an incredibly high ceiling but also a low floor if things don’t gel under Martin quickly. I expect them to be a tournament team simply because of the new talent on the roster, but they have the experience and leadership to certainly be more than just that.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Terrence Phillips
G: Jordan Barnett
F: Michael Porter Jr.
F: Kevin Puryear
F: Jontay Porter
Photo: Missouri Athletics