ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — They’ll be streaming into town around lunchtime, hunting down some Chokes n’ Cheese at Flat Branch, or perhaps a couple of tasty burgers at Booches, before making their way to Mizzou Arena for some Friday fun.
Cuonzo Martin’s team doesn’t play until 8:00 p.m. against Iowa State. But fans will be lined up at 1:30 p.m. outside the arena to see Norm Stewart’s Tigers attend a statue dedication in honor of the legendary 82-year-old coach. It’s another passing of the torch at Mizzou… and this time, it just might be the right handoff.
Read Tom’s previous column: Bill Wilkerson Was A Gift To Us
Stewart once had this program rolling. No, he never made it to a Final Four. But Stewart’s eight conference championships spoke volumes: the road to the Big 8 title came through Columbia, if you dared to go toe-to-toe with the Tigers at the Hearnes Center. Win there, and you could win anywhere.
Lately, Mizzou Basketball hasn’t had that bite. Kim Anderson couldn’t recover from the empty cupboard left by Frank Haith, who couldn’t get deep into the tournament like Mike Anderson, who couldn’t recruit like Quin Snyder, who couldn’t get out of his own way.
Martin seems to have outdone all of them already… and he hasn’t coached a game yet.
When the Tigers take the floor on Friday night, it will be the most anticipated season since maybe Snyder’s 2003-04 team that was ranked fifth in the nation in the preseason.
This Mizzou team, the 2017-18 edition, has a preseason first-team All-American, Michael Porter Jr… and he’s a 6-10 freshman. Michael’s brother, Jontay, is 6-11. East St. Louis native Jeremiah Tilmon is 6-11. Clearly, the Tigers will be intimidating just getting off the bus. They’ll also throw a couple of experienced forwards at you in senior Jordan Barnett and junior Kevin Puryear, who can both play inside and outside.
While Michael Porter is the star, Tilmon is the most intriguing of the bunch. If the big man from Martin’s hometown can stay out of foul trouble, Tilmon could be a game-changer in just about every game Mizzou plays in. (How salty will Illinois fans be about the former commit during the Braggin’ Rights game on Dec. 23?)
And while Martin will find the right combination of guards to use down the stretch, the young presence of freshman Blake Harris mixed with a veteran, junior Terrence Phillips, should be a good distribution of minutes. Senior Kassius Robertson is expected to be major threat as a perimeter scorer.
Ultimately, Missouri will hang its proverbial hat on defense, just as Martin’s teams did in previous stops. If the defense holds and causes turnovers, the fast-break points on the other end will provide plenty of highlights and exposure on ESPN’s Sportscenter.
Mizzou fans, meanwhile, will eat it all up like a slice at Shakespeare’s. They don’t mind that the team was left out of the Top 25 at the start of the season. Let the boys earn it.
It’s basketball season again in Columbia.