In the midst of an eight-year drought that has yielded zero NCAA Tournament wins, Mizzou basketball suffered another setback Thursday. This has been an exhaustingly frustrating decade for the Show Me State, and it’s only fitting that the latest blow — an upset loss to No. 12-seeded Georgia in the SEC tourney — came in front of a charged-up “home” crowd in St. Louis.
The loss won’t deny the Tigers a spot in the national tournament. They’re in. But there’s not much to celebrate at the moment.
Anyone who has closely followed Missouri on the hardwood remembers a mind-numbing loss to No. 15-seeded Norfolk State in 2012, sandwiched by blowout tournament losses to Cincinnati (2011) and Colorado State (2013). And those were considered the good times, before NCAA violations and myriad other issues sent the Tigers into a historically ugly spiral.
Traditionally considered a “basketball school,” Missouri has made deep runs in the tournament — most recently to the Elite 8 in 2009 — but never has reached Final Four. It’s a fact every Missouri fan knows, but chooses not to acknowledge. Especially when debating the merits of the Tigers and border rival Kansas.
There may or may not be a curse, but … there’s probably a curse. Ask anyone who watched this team in the 1980s. Or, really, in any decade. Google Tyus Edney and you’ll get the gist.
So, when the clouds parted and the basketball gods gave Mizzou an elite recruiting class and a competent coach last year, people were cautiously optimistic (operative word: cautiously). And when — after a hard-fought regular season without said recruit — the clouds somehow parted again and Michael Porter Jr. made his return to the court in St. Louis, there was, again, a cautious optimism.
And why not lean away from cautious and toward optimism? Maybe there was something different about this season.
Back to reality. Thursday, a 10-0 lead evaporated and Missouri shot 34.4 percent from the field en route to an embarrassing loss. Porter was rusty as could be, losing control of the ball while dribbling on multiple occasions and air-balling a wide-open 3-point attempt in the first half. He finished 5 of 17 with 12 points and 8 rebounds.
The kid hadn’t played in 118 days, and it showed. But he didn’t get much help from a depleted cast of guards and an inefficient set of front-court shooters.
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism in the NCAA Tournament is Porter’s brother, 6-foot-11 forward Jontay Porter. He’s been on a tear lately, and made several big plays against Georgia on Thursday. In fact, he was the only Missouri player to finish with a field-goal percentage better than 50 percent (he shot 5 of 8). That’s about the only positive spin you can take from a forgettable day that was supposed to be a high point in recent program history.
Missouri could have used Michael Porter’s return and a win as a launching pad toward a strong placement in the national field. Now, it looks like an No. 8 or 9 seed for the Tigers.
If that’s the case, this will be the seventh time in school history Missouri opens the NCAA Tournament in that 8 vs. 9 game. The Tigers have gone 2-4 in that position. The second time they won, they subsequently ran up against one of Mike Krzyzewski’s all-time best Duke teams in 2001. The first time … well, you Googled Tyus Edney, right?