So far, Michael Porter Jr. has had a college career to forget. There was back surgery, a total of 25 minutes played in two games, and zero shining moments. And that’s exactly why the spotlight will be on him Friday night.
Porter entered the season as the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. An injury in the first game almost ended his season, and somehow Missouri made the NCAA Tournament anyway. Always considered a one-and-done college player, Porter desperately wants to extend his stay by winning a meaningful game in March.
In his comeback last week in the Southeastern Conference tournament, the 6-foot-10 freshman was a detriment to the Tigers. He missed 12 of his 17 shots in 23 minutes in a loss to Georgia. He said he feels better this week and expects to make a positive impact in Missouri’s first-round game against Florida State in Nashville.
Porter’s chances of making a lasting memory seem encouraging. The Seminoles, losers of three of their past four games, have not beaten a quality opponent in more than a month. Porter and senior guard Kassius Robertson, a 42-percent 3-point shooter, will get opportunities against Florida State’s poor perimeter defense.
Tiger Woods is making an inspiring comeback from back surgery. Porter can do it, too.
Favorites won 13 of 16 games Thursday, when there were dramatic point-spread decisions all over the board. I was on the wrong side of Alabama’s upset of Virginia Tech and on the obvious right side of Buffalo’s blowout of Arizona. Go with Missouri as a 1½-point underdog, and here are five more plays for Friday:
* Butler (-1½) over Arkansas: The 10th-seeded Bulldogs have two elite scorers — Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin — and a history of March magic. The Razorbacks, who rank No. 100 in defensive efficiency, were pounded by Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Jaylen Barford leads a talented but unreliable Arkansas team. Martin and Baldwin will need to be big-shot makers for Butler to advance.
* Cal State Fullerton (plus-20½) over Purdue: On paper, this is the day’s biggest mismatch. The Boilermakers, especially 7-2 Isaac Haas, are too big inside and shoot 42 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark in the nation. The Titans of the weak Big West Conference could get drilled. Still, Purdue went 1-10-2 against the spread down the stretch and had problems rebounding and protecting leads.
* Texas (-1) over Nevada: With 6-11 shot swatter Mo Bamba back on the floor, the Longhorns have a matchup edge over a Wolf Pack team with no big man. Nevada coach Eric Musselman has athletic wings — Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline — and much better 3-point shooters. These teams are stylistic opposites. But Musselman also lost his point guard to injury and his team was embarrassed in the Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.
* Marshall (plus-12½) over Wichita State: Look to back big underdogs with scoring firepower. Veteran guards Jon Elmore (22.8 points per game) and C.J. Burks (20.5) can score for coach Dan D’Antoni and the Thundering Herd. The Shockers will win, because point guard Landry Shamet is too good, but this ‘dog can give Gregg Marshall’s team a run for the money.
* New Mexico State (plus-5) over Clemson: The Tigers were 16-3 with Donte Grantham and are 7-6 since losing their senior forward to a knee injury. Zach Lofton, Jemerrio Jones and the Aggies (28-5) should take this late game in San Diego to the wire.
Thursday: 2-2-1 against the spread