Tonight, new Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin will have an in-home visit with Kevin Knox, a five-star recruit from Tampa who is 6’9″ and will play small forward in college. Knox has narrowed his choices to North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Florida State … and Missouri. The first three blue-blood programs need no explanation, and Knox’s parents were athletes at Florida State and it’s a shorter distance from home. Missouri, meanwhile, has won 27 games over the last three seasons under previous coach Kim Anderson.
The attraction, of course, is that fellow elite prospect Michael Porter, Jr. returned to Columbia, where he grew up, after Lorenzo Romar was fired at Washington. Porter’s father was hired to Cuonzo Martin’s staff, and Porter announced his decision a few weeks ago. He was joined by another player originally committed to Washington, four-star point guard Blake Harris from North Carolina. Jeremiah Tilmon, another top prospect at center, de-committed from Illinois with the coaching change, is from East St. Louis, and is considering Missouri and Kansas.
Just over a week ago, Knox was on campus and part of this photo with Porter, Jr. and Harris.
There’s obviously a long way to go, and everything is contingent on Knox’s decision, but Missouri is shooting up the charts when it comes to contenders next year. Many will point to both LSU with Ben Simmons and Washington last year with Markelle Fultz as cautionary tales. That’s a fair point.
The distinctions there, though, was also the amount of help they had coming in and the people that the program was replacing. Yes, LSU got Simmons. They also lost veterans Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, two players drafted into the NBA by pick #33, and they had injuries. Washington added Fultz, but lost 3 starters, including freshmen Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, both first round picks (Chriss 8th overall).
Missouri is replacing guys who are transferring out and who aren’t good enough to start on a decent major conference team with potential lottery picks. They aren’t replacing and trying to improve upon NBA talent on an otherwise underachieving team.
Missouri’s national title odds have skyrocketed in recent weeks, going from astronomical to now tied for the 15th-highest according to one site. That price obviously is accounting for some potential of landing Knox, but not the full measure if he actually commits. Expect that number to improve even more if Missouri has two top prospects. Yes, you could be looking at a world where Missouri has better odds than power programs like UCLA and Indiana next year.
Add in that Porter, Jr.’s younger brother Jontay, a junior, could re-classify and join his brother at Missouri this year. He’s a 6’10” true post player. There are other players that may also be attracted, like grad transfers who could be part of the rotation. (Darius Thompson, for example, played with Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee, then transferred to Virginia, and is now immediately eligible as a grad transfer at guard).
This is obviously contingent on Knox, but the potential rotation puts them with the following:
PG/SG: Terrence Phillips (Jr.), Blake Harris (Fr.), Cullen Van Leer (Jr.) Jordan Geist (Jr.)
Wing: Jordan Barnett (Sr.), Michael Porter, Jr. (Fr.), Kevin Knox (Fr.)
Post: Kevin Puryear (Jr.), Jeremiah Tilmon (Fr.) (or Jontay Porter? (Fr.) if he doesn’t come)
The team would be loaded on the wing and have plenty of length on the front line. The depth issues would be at guard, but Phillips has been a good player in a bad situation, and they could play a big lineup with Barnett, Porter, and Knox all on the floor with a point guard.
If Knox comes, this team has a chance to be the most talented ever at Missouri, with two potential lottery picks. That may seem hyperbole, but I say this as a long suffering fan who has watched every Missouri basketball team since 1986 (I fell in love with the Derrick Chievous and Lee Coward team that won the Big 8 in 1987 but then lost to Xavier in the first round).
Missouri doesn’t exactly have a lengthy history of Final Fours. In fact, there are none, so part of that grandiose statement is that there is very much an opportunity to leave a mark. Here is my assessment, having watched Missouri games for over 25 years, of the candidates for best/most talented Missouri teams:
1989: #3 seed, lost to Syracuse in Sweet 16 in Midwest Regional. This team had Doug Smith, Byron Irvin, and freshman Anthony Peeler, all who played in the NBA. The Tigers went to the preseason NIT final (also a loss to Syracuse), lost a memorable game at Oklahoma when Billy Tubbs took the mic and ripped the officials, and won the Big 8 tournament. They finished the year ranked 6th.
1994: #1 seed, lost to Arizona in Elite 8 in West Regional. By accomplishment, this team is #1, getting a 1-seed, and winning the Big 8 with a 14-0 record. It was a sum is greater than the parts team that came together after getting shellacked at #1 Arkansas in December, and was led by Melvin Booker (father of Devin).
1982: #2 seed, lost to Houston in Sweet 16 of Midwest Regional. I don’t have personal memory of this one, but the Steve Stipanovich/Jon Sundvold team reached #1 in the country in January, won the Big 8 regular season and tournament titles, and then got upset by a young Houston Cougars team with Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon in his first season playing.
2009: #3 seed, lost to Connecticut in Elite 8 in West Regional. Before Mike Anderson started flirting with and left for Arkansas, he had one really good team, led by DeMarre Carroll. They didn’t move into the rankings for good until February but went on a run and won the Big 12 tournament, and beat Memphis in the Sweet 16.
1990: #3 seed, lost to Northern Iowa in first round of Southeast Regional. And here’s where it gets really painful. A team with Doug Smith and Anthony Peeler was ranked #1 for four weeks late in the season, then ended the year by losing by 30 to Notre Dame, losing the Big 8 tournament opener to Colorado, and then losing on a buzzer beater to Northern Iowa.
Those are the candidates, and yes, in just a short time after some really bad seasons, the expectations are going to be high. If multiple top prospects join Porter, though, something you see only happen at the blue-blood programs, well, it’s not out of the question that Missouri produces two lottery picks and is a serious contender for most talented Mizzou version ever.