They say that the Earth was created in six days. Not too shabby. Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin may have that beat if we’re to believe both the experts and Missouri fans.
When Jim Sterk hired Martin to rebuild the Missouri basketball program, I’m not sure even Sterk envisioned Martin’s masterpiece being created in such short time. Martin hired Michael Porter Sr. to sit along side him on the bench and the rest was a domino effect. Porter Sr.’s blue chip recruit son, Michael Porter Jr., pledged his commitment to the Tigers, highly regarded point guard recruit Blake Harris jumped onboard Martin’s party bus, Jeremiah Tilmon was wooed away from Illinois, and, finally, Porter Jr.’s brother Jontay reclassified for the 2017 season and joined his father and oldest brother.
[Merenbloom: Missouri’s Jim Sterk Got His Man]
Martin inherited a team that went 8-24 in 2016. With only two players taller than 6’8”, the roster Kim Anderson left for Martin was short on height and talent. And now the 2017-18 team has multiple blue chip recruits to go along with six players who are taller than 6’8”. On paper, this is the most formidable roster Missouri has had since the late 1980s. Emphasis being placed upon ON PAPER.
Missouri went from SEC doormat to being considered contenders to win the conference. Not only that, but Missouri is one of the preseason favorites to win the national championship. Everyone needs to pump the brakes on Martin’s party bus.
Let’s at least see this team play before anointing them as a dream team. Martin’s team will certainly be talented, but it’s going to be a talented and young team. No matter how talented youth is, it’s still youth. A learning curve should be anticipated as these kids transition from high school and AAU ball to major college play.
The Tigers start the season at home against Iowa State. While the Cyclones aren’t considered to be an elite team this year, they should still be considered to be a tough test for a team as young as Missouri is. We’ll learn a lot about Martin’s team in this game but we shouldn’t base the entire season on this one game.
I expect this team to be good, but I also expect this team to have growing pains. Being able to score shouldn’t be a problem for this team. It’s on the defensive side of the court that I anticipate this team showing the most growth as the season progresses. Defense has a lot to do with being disciplined and knowing your opponent. Players coming right out of high school are used to being the biggest players on the court. This also means that these players are used to physically dominating their opponents. That won’t be the case most nights in the SEC.
Missouri fans should be excited about this team but the fans should also expect to see some frustrating moments. When those moments happen, just remember how the last three seasons went. It may take a few months for this team to mature and hit its stride, but once it does, it could really make some noise in the NCAA tournament. Be excited, but a trip to the Final Four shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion. But it sure is nice to be a Missouri basketball fan with legitimate anticipation and hope for an upcoming season. It’s been too long.
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