Year three of the Cuonzo Martin era for the Missouri basketball program is quickly approaching. Mizzou is looking to improve upon a very disappointing 15-17 record from the 2018 campaign that was plagued with injuries, most notably the torn ACL that sophomore forward Jontay Porter suffered just before the season started. The injury ultimately ended Porter’s season as he would go on to declare for the National Basketball Associated (NBA) draft.
Junior guard Mark Smith also sustained an ankle injury that lingered throughout the season and the injury held Smith to only 19 out of 32 total games played which means Smith was only able to play just over half of the season. Smith’s injury hurt the team a lot, considering he was by far the best shooter on the team, making 45% of his three-pointers for the year. The Tigers return seven of their top nine scorers with players such as Jerimiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, and Torrence Watson.
Many fans feel very good about the team heading into the season but the South Eastern Conference (SEC) is not. In the SEC men’s basketball preseason poll, the Tigers are ranked second to last with a predicted 13th place finish in the conference. In large part, this prediction is due to the lack of success last season, as well as the loss of leading scorer Jordan Geist, along with four-year starter Kevin Puryear. But just because the SEC feels that way, doesn’t mean Mizzou won’t have a good season. Here is why Mizzou’s basketball team may be better than many crack them out to be.
The first thing that you have to notice is that Mizzou brings back seven of its top nine scorers. This is huge because that means the team is going to have depth, something that they haven’t in a while. As mentioned before the two scorers that are gone are Geist and Puryear. In basketball, having depth is probably the most key part of an overall lineup. With Mizzou returning seven top scorers, their offense can be very deadly and it’s going to be tough for opposing teams to defend them. A key part of the top-scoring unit is last year’s dominant freshman class including Pickett, Watson, and Xavier Pinson.
Pickett easily was the bright spot of the class as he has proved himself to be an excellent two-way player. Pickett plays with an intensity on defense that you just can’t teach and gives opposing ball handlers a fit every time he defends them. He can get it done on the offensive end as well. Pickett averaged seven points per game and also shot 31% from three. While his three-point percentage can be improved, he’s able to knock down big shots when it counts.
Watson is someone who has a lot to prove heading into his sophomore season. Watson was considered to be the gem of the 2018 recruiting class but struggled quite his freshman season. Watson started the year off slowly as he often struggled from the three-point line. As the year moved on Watson improved and by the end of the season, he looked like he was ready to take the next leap to become the player that many expected him to be.
The last player from that class is Pinson. Pinson is a flashy, athletic guard that brings tons of excitement to the offensive end of the court. Pinson has a niche for finding the open man and his playmaking ability doesn’t go unnoticed. He shot 40% from three last season and he was excellent at finishing the ball at the rim. The thing that Pinson will have to improve upon is his ability to take care of the ball. To be fair, every freshman has their struggles, but Pinson found himself forcing passes that didn’t need to occur in the first place which often resulted in turnovers. Nonetheless, if Pinson can fix that problem, he could be a key contributor on this year’s squad.
Another thing that Missouri will potentially do well on this season is shooting the three. Basketball has evolved over the years from a game that was heavily revolved around the ability to control the game in the paint, to who is the better team behind the three-point line. One thing that Missouri did well last year was its efficiency from three. Missouri is not really a team that will force the ball inside. If they beat you, it’s going to be because of how well they shoot.
One last thing to mention for the team is this year’s freshman class. The Tiger’s recent exhibition matchup against Southeast Missouri State showed the freshman looking very promising. Freshman forward Kobe Brown actually started for the Tigers and led the team in scoring with 12 points that night. Another newcomer that could give a great impact on the team this year is none other, Dru Smith.
Smith transferred from Evansville last season but had to sit out after the National College Athletes Association (NCAA) deemed him ineligible. In his first piece of the action, Smith had eight points, six assists, and six steals. Freshman Forward Tray Jackson is an under-the-radar guy but he could be a key contributor this season at the power forward position. Jackson is looking to fill in the need at the position as he is a guy that can shoot from deep, as well as finish at the rim due to his freakish athletic ability for a 6’8 200-pound player.
Last but not least is Mario McKinney, who is an explosive guard that brings an amazing amount of energy on the defensive end. McKinney should be able to find himself on the floor for some decent minutes this season and will be a scary sight to see for opposing point guards.
With that all being said, don’t count out Missouri. I wouldn’t say that they are a top contender for an SEC title, but they are an under the radar team that could surprise many when it’s all said and done.