This was not the basketball season Missouri expected.
Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to lead the Tigers. Instead, the preseason All-American freshman has undergone back surgery and could miss the season. So it’s understandable that Kassius Robertson, the Tigers’ graduate transfer guard, is still adjusting to a role he did not anticipate, both as a leader and on-the-floor contributor.
Robertson came to Missouri from low-level Canisius to be a knock-down shooter when teams closed in on Porter. Instead, he leads Mizzou with 15.1 points and 32.5 minutes per game while still getting used to playing against higher-level competition on a regular basis.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to play 30 minutes a game, whatever I’m averaging right now,” said Robertson, who is originally from Toronto. “… My body feels it, that’s for sure.”
Robertson averaged more minutes each of the last two seasons at Canisius, but Missouri generally plays tougher teams than the Griffs. That will be especially true starting Wednesday, when Mizzou begins its Southeastern Conference schedule at South Carolina.
Including Mizzou, the SEC could have six NCAA Tournament teams this season. That’s far different from Robertson’s old conference, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“When I go into the lane, I’m used to 6-8 big men who can’t really jump, who are more looking to take a charge than block your shot,” Robertson said. “At my old school, the bigs weren’t nearly as athletic as they are here. No one’s really dunking on anybody back in the MAAC.”
Robertson — who is making 40.4 percent of his threes and averaging a career high 7.2 attempts from deep per game — said his teammates are trusting him more. He has noticed that they aren’t helping him as much on defense, and they are not hesitating to pass him the ball when he is open.
Or maybe that is all just in his head. His coach, Cuonzo Martin, seems to think Robertson has just become more confident and comfortable.
“I thought they did that before,” Martin said when asked if his players were trusting Robertson more. “… I think it was probably more Kassius understanding what he brings to the table and what we need from him.”
After a brief, two-game shooting slump in November during which he made 3 of 19 shots, including just 2 of 12 three-point attempts, Robertson has been one of Mizzou’s most consistent scorers. He’s not just a shooter either. He can drive to create shots for himself and others off the dribble.
“I’ve always trusted him,” MU senior forward Jordan Barnett said. “As the two veterans, you don’t really have much choice but to put trust in your veterans.”
It is a bit of an odd dynamic: Martin has tabbed Barnett and Robertson as the leaders of this team, even though Barnett is the only one who had played for Missouri prior to this season — and that was for just one semester after transferring from Texas.
This is always an important responsibility, but it is perhaps especially significant for this Missouri team, which openly admits it is still learning how to fight adversity and win games.
“It’s still tough,” Robertson said. “I’m still working at it.”
His teams had winning records during two of the three seasons he played for Canisius, but they never made the NCAA Tournament, so he is not filled with experience and knowledge when it comes to being elite.
But that doesn’t matter. This season took an unexpected turn, and Robertson must carry a larger load.