The Porter era at Missouri isn’t finished quite yet. Michael Porter Jr. left for the NBA, going No. 14 overall to the Nuggets despite playing only 53 minutes across three games due to back surgery in his only season in Columbia. But younger brother Jontay, who withdrew his name from the NBA Draft in late May, projects to be the Tigers’ centerpiece as a sophomore. Jontay Porter’s decision also changes the trajectory of MU’s rebuild under Cuonzo Martin entering its second season. After breaking a four-year NCAA Tournament drought last season, the Tigers hope to return to the NCAAs even without their top scorers — Kassius Robertson (16.3 ppg) and Jordan Barnett (13.7 ppg) — from last season.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Cuonzo Martin
2017-18 RECORD (SEC): 20-13 (10-8)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Florida State 67-54 in the first round
F Jordan Barnett (13.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
F Michael Porter Jr. (10.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
G Kassius Robertson (16.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
Porter, a 6'11" sophomore forward, averaged 9.9 points with a team-high 6.8 rebounds and shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range last season. He should improve on those numbers and, with his slick passing ability, gives Mizzou one of the SEC’s most versatile players.
Athlon Sports' College Basketball magazine provides full team previews, schedules, conference predictions and national rankings. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!
Big things also will be expected from Jeremiah Tilmon, a 6'10" sophomore post who averaged 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman. He possesses terrific footwork and scoring touch, but he must avoid foul trouble to reach his potential.
Kevin Puryear, a 6'7" senior forward, saw his scoring (8.6 ppg) and rebounding (4.3 rpg) averages drop last season, but he’s capable of 30-point outings and provides a much-needed veteran presence. Junior forward Reed Nikko offers frontcourt depth.
The return of Mitchell Smith, who redshirted last season after suffering a torn ACL as a freshman, is intriguing. He added 20 pounds of muscle during rehab and also improved his shooting range and ability to defend the perimeter. Smith showed potential as an above-average rim defender in 2016-17, when he averaged 2.4 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
Freshman walk-on Parker Braun — a 6'9" forward who turned down scholarship offers from Arizona, Illinois, LSU, Mississippi and Nebraska among others — may redshirt and is expected to go on scholarship in 2019-20.
The backcourt is where Mizzou has concerns. Jordan Geist, a 6'2" senior point guard, is the only returning ball handler with significant SEC experience. He thrived last season — improving in virtually every statistical category under Martin, who loves his toughness — but Geist will need some help for the Tigers to match last season’s fourth-place SEC finish.
Missouri lost two other point guards — Blake Harris (transferred to NC State) and Terrence Phillips (dismissed midseason) — and senior combo guard Cullen VanLeer remains a question mark after suffering a torn ACL late last season. That puts pressure on incoming freshman Xavier Pinson, a 6'2" point guard from Chicago, to adjust quickly to the college game.
Replacing Robertson and Barnett, the Tigers’ top 3-point shooters last season, also presents a challenge. Transfer K.J. Santos, a 6'8" wing from Illinois-Chicago via Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, averaged 7.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range with the Flames in 2016-17. Incoming freshmen Torrence Watson and Javon Pickett, who also can soak up some point guard minutes, will need to produce from the perimeter immediately in a league loaded with backcourt talent.
With Jontay Porter’s return, expecting another NCAA Tournament run is reasonable. The ceiling feels lower than last season, but the program should remain on an overall upward swing — on the court and with recruiting. Martin’s style, which prioritizes defense and rebounding, and his willingness to adapt offensively should prevent too much of a drop-off from last year’s 20-win campaign.
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
SEC Prediction: 8th