By: Sammy Stava
The Missouri Men’s Basketball team suffered a damaging loss as far as their NCAA Tournament hopes go Tuesday night, falling to Ole Miss, 90-87 in overtime. Not only did Missouri lose to a bottom-tier SEC team, the Tigers lost at home to a Rebels team that had lost seven in a row and recently saw former head coach Andy Kennedy resign. It was Ole Miss’ first road win of the season, and interim head coach Tony Madlock’s first career game as a head coach. It certainly wasn’t a good look for Missouri, looking for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013.
However, all is not lost. Despite the loss, Missouri (18-10, 8-7) is currently part of a six-way tie for third-place in the SEC standings heading into the final three games of the regular season. Mississippi State, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, and Alabama are also in the six-way tie for third-place at 8-7. This also means that Missouri is still alive in the hunt for a double-bye for the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, something the Tigers could use as a home-court advantage. While after losing two straight, being in a six-way tie for third-place in the league maybe considered fortunate for Missouri, but it could also be unfortunate. The losses to LSU and Ole Miss simply come down to making free throws as the Tigers were 7-17 from the line at LSU, and 20-31 from the line vs Ole Miss. When you look at it that way, Missouri could easily be 10-5 in the SEC right now, which would actually be in second place because of a tiebreaker over Tennessee. For a team struggling to close out games, Missouri desperately needs Michael Porter Jr. to return, not only to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, but just to get in at this point.
Michael Porter Jr. is visiting with his doctor today in Dallas, Texas to see if he can get medically cleared for practice, and maybe eventually play. Not only does Michael Porter Jr. help this Missouri team on the court, but his potential return may be a big factor in getting them in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a possibility that the selection committee may evaluate the difference of this Tigers team of how they played without Michael Porter Jr. all season vs how they played with him down the stretch if that indeed becomes a reality. He, himself, could also affect the TV ratings when it comes to March Madness, and the selection committee would love to see a star player playing on national television for his hometown, with his brother Jontay, and his dad, Porter Sr. as an assistant coach.
But, the Tigers still have plenty of work to do after the loss to Ole Miss. Missouri’s final three games of the regular season are at Kentucky (Saturday), at Vanderbilt (Tuesday), and home vs Arkansas (next Saturday). All of those games are certainly winnable, but they are also certainly losable. After losing the bottom-dweller Rebels, nothing is guaranteed, especially in this conference, which has every team in this league at five SEC wins for the first time since 1988. The SEC could also get as many as eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, that’s who, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has right now. Despite the losses to LSU and Ole Miss, Joe Lunardi still has Missouri as a No. 7 seed in his latest bracketology update.
After their-five game winning streak, Missouri almost felt like a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. That is definitely not the case anymore. Head coach Cuonzo Martin has done an incredible job with this team despite everything that has gone wrong. Michael Porter Jr. was likely ruled out for the season in November, point guards Blake Harris and C.J. Roberts decided to transfer, Jeremiah Tilmon struggles with foul trouble and consistency, Jontay Porter should be a high school senior, and their team-leader, Kassius Robertson is a graduate transfer from Canisius.
Missouri won eight games last season under Kim Anderson, but this year’s Tiger team is NCAA Tournament or bust. Not only would it be a total collapse, but it would also be a severe disappointment if they would happen to land in the NIT. Nothing is finalized yet, and it’s up to Cuonzo Martin to finish the job. This hungry fan base deserves to see this team go dancing for the first time since 2013 after what has been a long few years.