It can be hard to get invested in a team when you don’t know their history, storyline and players. Missourian sports editor Pete Bland talks about the MU basketball teams, and what people should be paying attention to at games.

Women’s basketball

Coach: Robin Pingeton

What is the team known for historically?

When they were in the Big 12, they had decent years but struggled or were middle-of-the-pack. When Robin Pingeton came in and Missouri moved to the SEC, she slowly built a strong program. She built the team up to a point where it’s more competitive. The past two years they’ve finished strong in the SEC.

What defined the team last year?

They became competitive at the top tier of the SEC, one of the most competitive women’s basketball conferences in the nation. They finished strong in the SEC, made it to the NCAA Tournament, but didn’t quite fulfill all of their promise.

One of the big storylines of last year was when they beat the defending national champions South Carolina in Columbia. It was kind of a rough-and-tumble game. Then they played at South Carolina. Apparently, there were a ton of epithets hurled at Missouri women’s players, and the South Carolina coach (Dawn Staley) got involved, and Missouri’s athletic director Jim Sterk leveled a few accusations at the coach from South Carolina. The coach filed a suit against Sterk, and this spring they settled the lawsuit. So, this new rivalry has come to be.

What stories will you be following this season?

They’re heading into this year with the highest hopes in a while. The fact that this is Sophie Cunningham’s senior season will be a big storyline. She went to Rock Bridge High School in Columbia and was a multiple state champion. They’ve got some strong recruits coming in and recruits committed for years down the road, including an eighth-grader. One big reason was the visibility of Sophie Cunningham. The future is incredibly promising for them.

What else should incoming freshmen know about the team?

For the last three or four years, the women’s team has had the most exciting games at Mizzou Arena. They have a strong following and it’s good opportunity to see great games.

Men’s basketball

Coach: Cuonzo Martin

What is the team known for historically?

Missouri basketball history starts and ends with Norm Stewart, the court’s namesake. His teams were known for being tough competitors who would get down and dirty. They would win conference tournament championships even if they didn’t have much success during the regular season.

There was much consternation about the move to the SEC because they were leaving the rivalry with Kansas and Kansas took offense, thinking Missouri had left them in the lurch. Missouri went into the SEC thinking they would be one of the top four programs in the SEC annually. But, they’ve struggled.

What defined the team last year?

Cuonzo Martin came in as the coach, and he’s had success at Tennessee and California, and before that, Missouri State. Not only was he coming in, but so was Michael Porter Jr., the top recruit in the county. On top of that, his brother Jontay Porter, who was supposed to be a senior in high school, reclassified and became a freshman so both of them were coming in together.

People were saying they would be a top 15 team at least, going to the Final Four. But Porter Jr. ended up injured and only played two minutes and seven seconds in the first game of the season. Finally, he was able to come back and played in the SEC tournament, and they lost their opening game. A transfer named Kassius Robertson ended up being a big deal. He led the team to the NCAA tournament along with Jontay Porter.

What stories will you be following this season?

Michael Porter Jr. going to the NBA will be a big boost to the program’s visibility. That will be a big storyline—and whether that will bring in more recruits. Jontay Poter, who many thought would be a “one-and-done” like his brother and go into the NBA draft, decided to come back. That gives Missouri one of the strongest front-courts in the country with him and Jeremiah Tillman.

What else should incoming freshmen know about the team?

This past year the excitement was back in Mizzou Arena for a lot of the men’s games, even though many of them did not turn out that exciting. But some of them did, and that was more than you could say for the previous three years, when they struggled as much as Missouri basketball has in its history. Attendance dwindled, and going to a game was more of a chore. Now, it’s returning to that excitement level from back in the Norm Stewart days.

  • State government reporter, spring 2019. I am a junior studying investigative journalism and international studies. You can reach me at mgmcvan@mail.missouri.edu.

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