Mizzou has plenty of sports storylines swirling as the calendar turns to 2018.
Here are 10 to watch:
The Return (Part I, and maybe II): Since top freshman Michael Porter Jr. announced that he’d likely miss the year after undergoing back surgery, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether the 6-foot-10 forward will return at some point this season.
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A lot of that speculation has been fueled by Porter himself, who said on his Instagram page shortly after the operation that, ‘Whoever said it was gonna take 3-4 months to recover lied.’ Porter has been on Missouri’s bench for a few games and did a in-game interview with ESPN during the Braggin’ Rights telecast against Illinois on Dec. 23. Porter was not asked, however, whether he would return this year. And he might come back for his sophomore season at Missouri if his NBA Draft stock falls far enough that he feels a second year of college could cement him as a top-three pick. In the latest NBA mock draft by ESPN, Porter is currently projected to be taken No. 4 overall.
Drew Lock-watch: Back to school or to the NFL? Missouri’s quarterback said before the Texas Bowl that the NFL Draft advisory board told him to go back to school but he was still considering going pro. If Lock returns to Missouri, coach Barry Odom should have a team that could contend for the SEC East title with a potential Heisman candidate under center. If he doesn’t, all bets are off as to who starts at quarterback. Part of Lock’s decision will be determined by ...
Mizzou’s next offensive coordinator: Josh Heupel’s absence was clearly felt in the Tigers’ loss in the Texas Bowl. Missouri’s offense didn’t do the things that got it there, like take deep shots downfield utilizing Lock’s big arm. For the longest time, it was believed UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch would be the team’s new offensive coordinator. In recent days, though, other names have popped up, such as Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner. Odom also must hire another assistant when the new NCAA rule allowing 10 assistants takes effect on Jan. 9.
Will Mizzou go dancing? Missouri starts conference play at South Carolina on Wednesday at 10-3 — the Tigers have already surpassed last season’s win total. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects Missouri to make the tournament as a No. 10 seed, and if the Tigers can win the games they should, it doesn’t sound so far-fetched. Missouri will need to get more consistent play from forwards Kevin Puryear and Jontay Porter, who didn’t do much in the team’s most recent game against Illinois.
Women’s basketball: After losing its first game of the season to Western Kentucky, the Missouri women’s basketball team went on a 13-game win streak, which ties a program record. In the team’s New Year’s Eve win over Alabama, star junior Sophie Cunningham went down with a knee injury and was clearly in a lot of pain. Cunningham tweeted later in the evening that she’s yet to get a diagnosis on the injury. Pingeton’s team is easily her deepest at Missouri, as the team returned senior Jordan Frericks, junior Cierra Porter and sophomore Amber Smith, who give her three all-conference players alongside Cunningham in the starting five. The team also has point guard Lauren Aldridge, a Kansas transfer, who became eligible after sitting out last year. If Cunningham’s injury is an ACL tear, the Tigers can still make an NCAA Tournament but their ceiling is a lot lower. If the Columbia native is diagnosed with a hyperextension, they’ll compete for a spot in the Sweet 16 and more.
Bieser ball: In his first year as Missouri’s baseball coach, Steve Bieser led the program to 36 wins, its most since joining the SEC, and a program-record 20 game win streak. Bieser returns a strong core of seniors in pitcher Bryce Montes De Oca, catcher Brett Bond and outfielder Trey Harris, and a pair of promising sophomores in outfielder Kameron Misner and pitcher TJ Sikkema. Bieser also added some junior-college transfers to help the rotation offset the loss of ace Tanner Houck, who was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2017 draft. Does Bieser have enough to lead Missouri to its first NCAA Tournament since joining the SEC? Or will the rebuild need another year?
Softball/Ehren Earleywine: Last year’s Missouri softball team was arguably its worst ever under Ehren Earleywine, barely finishing around .500 (29-28) after being ravaged by injuries and a lack of pitching depth. Despite that, the Tigers still signed an impressive class and should get immediate help from a number of freshmen, including pitcher Lauren Rice, who could help combat some of the team’s pitching issues. Earleywine’s contract expires after this season and a big year could help his case for a better extension, which he’s optimistic will come from athletic director Jim Sterk.
Odom’s 2018 recruiting class: Football coach Barry Odom lost momentum with a number of top-ranked recruits after the team’s 1-5 start but kept others on his radar with six straight wins and bowl eligibility. Michael Thompson, a four-star defensive lineman out of St. Louis, is still in play for Missouri, as is junior-college quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., who was committed to LSU at one point. Odom has addressed a number of depth concerns with some early signings, but can he add a few impact guys in the final month to get the Tigers’ class into Top 30 territory?
Speaking of recruiting: Since his hire, Cuonzo Martin has been the guy that other coaches have dreaded seeing on the Missouri recruiting trail. Martin has already landed Torrence Watson, a top-60 recruit out of St. Louis, and has MU in play for a number of other players in the area. The region’s 2019 class includes a number of top-ranked recruits, including Mario McKinney, Marcedus Leech, E.J. Liddell, Francis Okoro and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Martin doesn’t need to stray very far off I-70 to pursue a highly rated class. Can he make it happen?
The South End Zone: The south end zone at Faurot Field is being prepared for demolition. MU’s gigantic rebuild includes a relocated weight room and football offices. The project is supposed to done in time for the 2019 season. Will that timeline stay on track, get sped up, or delayed by some unforeseen issue? And with facility updates constantly happening around college athletics, what’ll be announced this year?