The Missouri Tigers have been around a .500 team over the last two seasons after going to the NCAA tournament with the Porter twins under Cuonzo Martin. In spite of their recent record, Mizzou can prove to be a nuisance in SEC play. Last season, the Tigers finished 15-16, but showed a two-game improvement in conference play from the season before, posting a 7-11 record. The Tigers’ roster has not changed much from last year, which could prove beneficial to their prospects heading into a season that is far from normal.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
The Tigers have the benefit of continuity, with only three scholarship player leaving Columbia. F Reed Nikko (4.9 PPG) was their only senior, and while highly touted freshman F Tray Jackson opted to transfer to Seton Hall after struggling to see the floor and reserves F Axel Okongo and G Mario McKinney Jr. left for Eastern Michigan and JUCO respectively, the Tigers were not hit with any other departures. Jackson certainly had the potential to become an influential player in the future for the Tigers, but Okongo and McKinney were not likely to make much of an impact in his remaining time in college.
Meanwhile, the Tigers bring back all of their key pieces. Seven of the eight players that started at least 11 games for the Tigers are returning, and that list is highlighted by G Dru Smith (12.7 PPG), former Illinois transfer G Mark Smith (10.0 PPG), G Xavier Pinson (11.1 PPG), and F Jeremiah Tillmon (8.2 PPG), who are four of the presumed starters. The Tigers also return key reserves G Javon Pickett, F Kobe Brown, F Mitchell Smith, G Torrance Watson and F Parker Braun that provided key depth last season and will look to do the same this season.
With all of the returning players that Missouri has, there is little room for new players to fit in. The Tigers did bring in two prep players as well as a grad transfer and a JUCO transfer, but only one of those prep players will be eligible for this season. The Tigers brought in three-star center, Jordan Wilmore, who stands at 7’2” and will provide some more size inside for the Tigers, even if he doesn’t necessarily provide value right away. The Tigers also bring in a three-star F Sean Durugordon, who will be enrolling in January and redshirting for the rest of the season. Outside of those two prep players, the Tigers also introduce grad transfer G Drew Buggs (9.4 PPG at Hawaii), who will factor into the depth of the backcourt for his one season in CoMo and JUCO F Ed Chang, who will provide some floor-spacing as a reserve for the Tigers.
G: Dru Smith
G: Mark Smith
G: Xavier Pinson
F: Kobe Brown
F: Jeremiah Tillmon
Bench: Ed Chang
Bench: Drew Buggs
Bench: Mitchell Smith
Bench: Torrence Watson
Bench: Javon Pickett
Bench: Parker Braun
Bench: Jordan Wilmore
The Missouri starting lineup is probably the most settled of the entire SEC, with the Smith pairing and Pinson manning the backcourt and the Brown-Tillmon partnership carrying over from last season. Buggs and Chang are going to provide a new element to their bench, and their combination with Mitchell Smith, Watson and Pickett will give Missouri a solid unit that can support the starters while they are off the floor. Braun and Wilmore will also provide depth if either Tillmon or Smith get into foul trouble. This roster construction gives the Tigers a lot of different options and looks on both ends of the floor, which is a danger for any team they play because having options creates the matchup advantages that teams are trying to exploit.
Looking to the Future
The Tigers have four commitments for the 2021 class if you do not count Durugordon, who is enrolling in January 2021 but won’t play until the fall of 2021. The quartet of three-stars include G Anton Brookshire, C Yaya Keita, F Trevon Brazile, and G Kaleb Brown, who are not necessarily world-beaters but have the chance of getting to a level of being productive at an SEC level down the road. They also still have one scholarship spot for the 2021 class, and while they aren’t currently listed as warm for any prospect on 247, they still have the potential of bringing in a prep player, a JUCO player, or a transfer.
This season is an important one for Cuonzo Martin and his future in Columbia. The Tigers have been an average team in the SEC after Martin’s first season, and if there is not a marked improvement from the Tigers, there could be questions about his job status at the end of the season. This factor is compounded by the amount of talent that Missouri returns and the pieces that they added around the edges to bolster the squad. Missouri has the talent to challenge for a top-eight seed in the SEC Tournament, but they will need better performances on the offensive end of the floor in the games where they match the talent of the opposition. Their defense will win them some of those games, but improving on their offense that was ranked 288th in the NCAA in scoring average last season is going to tell the real story of their season.
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