Missouri fans have long awaited for positive basketball results.
With the welcoming of former California head coach Cuonzo Martin and a top 10 recruiting class, Missouri has the SEC on watch for the 2017-18 campaign. Ex-Washington Husky commit and five-star forward Michael Porter – the first unanimous #1 247Sports recruit since Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins – has signed his letter of intent with Missouri. Fellow four-stars Jeremiah Tilmon and Blake Harris also round out the nation’s 7th-best class for 2017. Jontay Porter, 247Sports’ 27th-ranked recruit for the class of 2018 and younger brother of Michael, also has the possibility of reclassifying for 2017.
But even with the abundance of much-needed talent on Missouri’s roster, expectations are sure to derail the Tigers next season. UM is now on its third head coach since 2011, as neither Frank Haith nor Kim Anderson were able to notch an NCAA Tournament victory during their respective tenures. Though Haith’s Tigers won 76 games in his three-year stretch, two first round losses spoiled Missouri’s hopes of accomplishing more. Anderson never came close to even sniffing March, failing to win more than 10 games in any of his three seasons. His three teams inexplicably combined to lose all 30 true road games.
Despite Missouri’s recent dubiousness, though, many fans and analysts are drinking the black and gold Kool-Aid this summer. The national consensus appears to agree that reaching the NCAA Tournament should be the expectation for Missouri next season. Though there are more difficult conferences to climb than the SEC, a tourney ticket for Cuonzo and company would be nothing short of a historic turnaround.
The table below includes each team that has recorded a top 10 recruiting class after missing the NCAA Tournament the previous season. Since 2009, 24 teams have done so, and the final results are less than impressive.
On average, teams that have missed the tournament and gained a top 10 recruiting class have improved by 2.9 wins the following season. Seven of the 24 teams won as many or fewer games the next season. The 2009 Kentucky Wildcats and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets lead the group, both having improved by double-digit wins and punching tournament bids the following March. Kentucky’s 2009 class, headlined by John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, resulted in a Final Four appearance and will be remembered as one of the greatest college basketball recruiting classes of all time. Each of the three Wildcats were taken in the top 18 in the 2010 NBA Draft.
This past season, Auburn, Mississippi State and North Carolina State boasted top 10 recruiting classes, but the three teams averaged 16.3 wins and all had their respective tournament hopes dashed long before Selection Sunday. The three teams averaged a lukewarm improvement of 2.7 wins.
Typically, 18 or more wins would place a power conference team on the NCAA Tournament bubble. This would require at least a 10-win improvement from the Tigers in 2018. Just two of the past 24 teams to miss the tournament and own a top 10 recruiting class have improved by more than 10 wins – the aforementioned Kentucky and Georgia Tech squads. Teams are three times more likely to win fewer games the following season (25.0%) than see a 10-win jump (8.3%).
Michael Porter may shine in his only season in Columbia, but even if he looks the part of a #1 overall pick for the 2018 NBA Draft, that’s no guarantee of his team’s success. In 2016, future #1 pick Ben Simmons averaged 19.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game but his LSU Tigers sputtered to a 19-win season. The projected #1 selection in June’s draft, Washington guard Markelle Fultz, finished sixth in the country in scoring but couldn’t prevent a 2-16 conference record.
If you’re hoping for other teams to make the jump, Alabama and Western Kentucky are far more favorable picks. The Crimson Tide return top 60 recruit Braxton Key (12.0/5.7/2.5) and welcome five-star point guard Collin Sexton, arguably the top floor leader in the nation.
The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky could also make some noise. Rick Stansbury’s group will be led by a tremendous frontcourt duo of senior Justin Johnson (14.5/9.5/2.0) and the top center from the class of 2017, seven-footer Mitchell Robinson. Texas and Missouri, however, remain distant longshots.
Ruling out a Missouri tournament appearance in 2018 would be reckless and possibly a bit unfair. Freshmen have been known to carry a great deal of importance in team improvement over recent seasons, especially for the likes of Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Cuonzo Martin has the pieces he needs for a successful season, but now he must do what he hasn’t done before – turn an elite recruiting class into an elite team.