FAYETTEVILLE - Some likely deemed the Missouri Tigers already done when projected one and done to the NBA freshman phenom Michael Porter required season-ending back surgery after just one game.
Meanwhile it was just last week that the Arkansas Razorbacks ranked No. 22 in the country and were 11-2 overall and 1-0 in the SEC off an SEC overtime win over previously ranked No. 22 Tennessee.
Well, not everything is as its seems for some who deem.
For as Missouri, 12-4, 2-1 in the SEC, and Arkansas, 11-5, 1-3, meet in Saturday’s 5 p.m. SEC game televised by ESPN2 at Walton Arena, it’s the Tigers on the rise and the Razorbacks plummeting in free fall.
First-year Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers nearly defeated Florida, the lone unbeaten in SEC play, before falling 77-75 in Columbia, Mo. and have won 79-68 at South Carolina and last Wednesday night in Columbia defeated Georgia, 68-56.
Meanwhile for their last three games, Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks in the SEC have lost 78-75 at Mississippi State, at Auburn trailed, 47-30 at half and lost 88-77 then Wednesday in the biggest shocker at Walton, trailed, LSU, 41-21 at half and lost 75-54 hitting but 19 field goals in 57 attempts and needing to shoot 54 percent in the second half to reach the 19 after hitting but 6 of 33 in the first half including just 1 of 11 3-pointers.
“We can make 19 field goals in 10 minutes,” Anderson said postgame Wednesday of his team that 10 games this season has scored between 92 and 104 points. “But tonight it didn’t happen.”
And despite the Michael Porter injury, good things have been happening for Mizzou which only went 2-16 in the SEC under former Coach Kim Anderson but last season did upset a 26-10 Arkansas team, 83-78 in Columbia after Arkansas trampled the Tigers, 92-73 in Fayetteville.
Both knowing Martin, who formerly coached in the SEC at Tennessee before coaching the University of California and heading east to Mizzou, and how some teams step up to compensate for a fallen star, former Mizzou Coach Anderson said he’s not surprised to see the Tigers rise.
“A lot of teams that’s when they play even better,” Anderson said. “Because when you don’t have someone it gives other guys opportunities to showcase what they’re doing. Cuonzo is doing an excellent job of really getting those guys to play at a high level, playing with great energy and certainly we have to come out with great energy.”
Martin has blended old and new at Mizzou. Against Georgia, Martin started three newcomers, 6-11 center Jontay Porter, the brother of Michael Porter, 6-10 freshman forward Jeremiah Timon
and 6-3 graduate transfer from Canisius University guard Kassius Robertson along with returning lettermen Jordan Barnett, the 6-7 senior forward dittoing Robertson with a team-leading 15.4 scoring average, and 6-2 junior guard Jordan Geist.
Junior forward Kevin Puryear, often Mizzou’s best player the previous two seasons, didn’t start against Georgia but was cited by Martin for his great defense against Georgia star forward Yante Martin while scoring seven of his nine points in succession on a key Missouri run.
Mizzou veteran guards Terrence Phillips and Cullen Van Leer also play off the bench.
Anderson mentioned them all, particularly Barnett, the transfer from Texas averaging 3.7 more points than he did last season at Missouri.
“Barnett is a guy that can really light it up,” Anderson said. “They’re playing with a lot of energy. They’re playing defense and they’re shooting the basketball well.”
The Razorbacks did none of the above against LSU, Anderson knows.
“The LSU game I didn’t think we showed up with the sense of urgency the we have to show up with,” Anderson said. “But that game is over and now we move on to the next game against a Missouri team that’s playing awfully well.”
Just as Arkansas did until the New Year hit after the Hogs beat Tennessee on Dec. 30.
“We’ve got to get back to playing like the way we played early in the year,” Anderson said. “ We had started trusting one another and the ball was moving and our defense went up another level. And our bench was really playing well.”