The Missouri Tigers basketball team has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2013, when Frank Haith was the head coach and the team was led by Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, and future NBAer Jordan Clarkson. The team went 23-11, earned a ninth seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. They were ousted in the round of 64 by the eight seed Colorado State Rams. The Tigers made the big dance five seasons in a row from 2009-13 but have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2010, when they were members of the Big 12 as they beat the seven seed Clemson Tigers in round of 64 back in 2010 as a 10 seed. But here in the 2017-18 season, all signs point to the Zou being back in the Big Dance.
The Tigers season began with huge hopes, as highly coveted recruit Michael Porter Jr. committed to play at Mizzou. But an injury sidelined Porter for all of the season thus far, as he hopes to return before the season’s end. However, head coach Cuonzo Martin and the rest of the Tigers squad have held it down, and despite Porter’s absence, look to be headed to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers started the season 11-3. The Tigers lacked big wins, but still had a good record. After the great start, Mizzou entered a skid. They would drop five of their next seven games, all in SEC conference play. Sitting at 13-8, and 3-5 in conference play, the Tigers season seemed doomed and seems they were headed for their fifth straight season missing the NCAA Tournament.
But over the last two weeks, Mizzou fired off five straight wins, including two home wins against ranked teams on national television. The first was against the #21 Kentucky Wildcats, beating them 69-60 back on February 3rd. Then last night, the Tigers took down the newly ranked #21 Texas A&M Aggies 62-58. The Tigers sit at 18-8 (8-5) on the season, good for 4th place in the SEC standings.
Mizzou has five regular season games left and should be able to extend their winning streak with relative ease. The Tigers play at LSU (10th in SEC standings), home against Ole Miss (13th), at Kentucky (8th), at Vanderbilt (14th), and close out the season against Arkansas, who sits near the middle of the pack at 6th. But no games are a ‘gimme’ in a major conference like the SEC, and a bad loss in one of these games could prove costly for the Tigers.
The Tigers will also have the SEC Tournament to try and bolster their resume for the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers could be seeded anywhere between 2nd and 6th, depending on how the rest of the SEC shakes out over the last few regular season games. Also, for the first time, the SEC basketball tournament is also being held in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center from March 8th-12th. It could potentially be a big home court advantage for the Tigers.
Long time ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Mizzou making the tournament as a nine seed and taking on the eight seed Butler Bulldogs in the South region. CBS Sports College Basketball Expert Jerry Palm currently has the Tigers as a seven seed in the East region, taking on the 10 seed UCLA Bruins. As long as the Tigers do not fall apart over the last five regular season games, it sure seems like they are in.
Perhaps most notably, is the potential return of Michael Porter Jr. MPJ is hopeful team doctors will clear him over the next few days to start practicing, which would later lead to him playing this season. Porter has stated he wants to play, and that once he gets cleared by team doctors, he will be out on the hardwood. Cuonzo Martin also stated he would not be surprised if MPJ plays this season.
Porter is currently projected as a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He may go top five, but if not, will surely go top 10. It would be hard to expect MPJ to stay another year at Mizzou with those as his draft projections. Both fans, coaches, and NBA scouts are intrigued to see if and how Porter will play this season. If he does, that could change everything for Mizzou. Porter is a top player in the country. With him on the floor, Mizzou could practically compete with just about any team in the country. Only time will tell but if MPJ makes a speedy comeback and plays this season. But if he does, watch out for the Missouri Tigers.