By: Sammy Stava
The 2017-2018 Missouri Men’s Basketball team will certainly be remembered for all the right reasons…..and wrong. On the right side, it was a remarkable turnaround season that started with such high hopes, but on the wrong side, this season will always be defined by “What if?”
What if C.J. Roberts didn’t transfer to Texas Tech?
What if Blake Harris didn’t transfer to N.C. State?
What if Terrence Phillips didn’t get kicked off the team?
What if Cullen VanLeer didn’t tear his ACL in the home finale against Arkansas?
What if Jordan Barnett didn’t get arrested …… one week before the NCAA Tournament … as a senior?
And then for the big one, what if this team had a 100% healthy Michael Porter Jr.?
How about on the court results? This team had three losses to West Virginia (83-79), Florida (77-75), and Arkansas (65-63) by a combined total of eight points.
What if they win one or two of those games? Then Missouri would have probably been off of that dreaded 8 vs 9 toss-up game against Florida State, which ended their season in a 67-54 loss on Friday night.
Or what if this team doesn’t beat Mississippi State at home on February 10th?
If Kevin Puryear doesn’t hit that game-winning three-pointer with 10 seconds left in that game, Missouri very well could have missed the NCAA Tournament.
And that’s where they were, the NCAA Tournament, in year one under head coach Cuonzo Martin, despite everything that went wrong. From an eight-win season in 2016-2017 to a 20-win campaign in 2017-2018, this team accomplished their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013. Missouri was picked to finish fifth in the SEC preseason poll, and they did finish fifth with 10 conference wins, which was the magic number to get them into the Big Dance.
Martin also did this without a true point guard, depth issues, and of course, no Michael Porter Jr. He also did it in an eight-bid SEC, the most teams in the conference’s history to make the NCAA Tournament.
Now, imagine if everything went right for this team. That’s what Missouri fans are probably thinking right now, because this was a season of what could have been. Everything was in place for it to be special, and in an underwhelming way, it still was.
Yes, the SEC and NCAA Tournament was definitely a disappointment, especially where fans finally got to see Michael Porter Jr. in action, but unfortunately nowhere near to his full potential. Though college basketball, especially in the postseason, is a crapshoot anyways, and that’s why this season can still be considered a success, nothing more, and nothing less.
In fact, Missouri was the most improved team in college basketball this season, but now it’s time to look forward to the future, something this fan base hasn’t been able to do in a while. And all of that credit goes to Kassius Robertson, because where on earth would this team without their senior leader? He was the most impactful grad-transfer in a major conference this season.
While Missouri fans unfortunately got to enjoy only one year of Kassius Robertson, they can enjoy the “what if’s?” heading into this offseason.
What IF Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter decide to return for their sophomore year?
What IF this team lands Courtney Ramey, the star point-guard out of Webster Groves?
Those are the two intriguing storylines leading up to the 2018-2019 season.
The first question seems unlikely both will return, but if Miles Bridges return to school for his sophomore year, why not Michael Porter Jr., right? That’s just something to think about, Missouri fans.
So, year one under Cuonzo Martin is in the books with a 20-win season and an NCAA Tournament appearance for the first time since 2013. Not too shabby. We all know he can recruit, but can he coach? I think that question was answered this year with a yes, because this was arguably his best coaching job of his career. Now it’s time to build off that success and prove that he’s the right fit at the University of Missouri, something this basketball program needs.
This still doesn’t take away the sting as the 2017-2018 Missouri Men’s Basketball team that will always be defined as “what if?” It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
What could have been? We’ll never know.