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Missouri could be changing course as another basketball recruiting weekend approaches

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A key graduate transfer is in town, and it could be a signal of a slight change in the plan for reshaping the roster next season.

Canisius v Kentucky
Kassius Robertson
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

For most of the offseason, once Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers, Missouri has set a course of grandeur with its recruitment of Kevin Knox, Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith.

Despite complete radio silence on Jeremiah Tilmon’s end, it seems things are still very much on course there. And while some are choosing to read bad news into a moderate update on the coaching visits with Knox, we don’t know much there either. So the biggest recent update on Mizzou recruiting has been Mark Smith’s visit to Illinois.

Smith went to Illinois with Kansas transfer Carlton Bragg and Cal transfer Charlie Moore. Since his visit started, the Crystal Ball at 247sports started trending away from Michigan State.

Smith has long been rumored to be very concerned with early playing time wherever he ends up, and with Missouri signing two guards in its class, and in addition to the primary ball handler and two-year starter already on the roster (Terrence Philips), it was easy to see why the Tigers might not be Smith’s favorite despite Cuonzo Martin’s best efforts.

With Smith clearly trending towards either MSU or Illinois (and looking very good for Illinois right now), Missouri had to change gears, and they have.

Kassius Robertson played at Canisius last year and was pretty good. Looks like Dave got his numbers from Robertson’s Canisius College webpage, while I got my numbers from Basketball-Reference:

I watched some game film on Robertson, and I think it’s easy to see why Missouri is pursuing him. He doesn’t have elite size for an off guard, but he does have elite lift and a high release on his jump shot, which allows him to get his shot off in tighter spaces. He’s not an exceptional athlete and has limited movement laterally, but overall his ability to get off deep shots and still be accurate against good defense makes him a threat.

What the Tigers need is shooting and guys who can work off the ball, and Robertson can provide that. It remains to be seen how good of a defender he can be in the SEC.

Also along for the ride:

Jontay.

Okay, Jontay is the clear feature of this trip. The “Will he reclassify?” question isn’t likely to be answered for a while, but whether Jontay is a 2018 recruit or a 2017 recruit, he is highly sought-after and would make Missouri better the moment he hits campus.

Porter is a skilled big man who can shoot it from deep and has a deft passing touch. He’s capable of playing the low block and being an elite rebounder if he sets his mind to it, but he often ranges too far from the basket, content to shoot 3s. It would seem he’s read these reports, though — in the early periods of spring AAU action, he showed a rededication to the interior.

There are still parts of Jontay’s game that can be improved upon, but this summer he’s finally going to get to show what he can do, out from under his brother’s enormous shadow. Once Jontay was on his own, it didn’t take long for him to vault up enough spots in the rankings to grab the vaunted fifth star.

The prevailing thought is that Jontay reclassifying to 2017 is a backup plan if things go awry with Jeremiah Tilmon, but Tilmon and Porter are different players. Tilmon is strictly low-block while Porter is more of a roamer in the half court, so they could easily play together.

At this point, I think Jontay is more likely to stay in the 2018 class because he’ll get a chance to go through the full AAU session, be his own guy in high school and potentially become a McDonald’s All-American.

If Jontay makes it into the elite circuit of all-star games like his brother did, that would help attract other big names in recruiting for the 2018 class, many of whom I’d expect to begin getting attached to Missouri over the next few weeks as the AAU spring evaluation periods kick into high gear.

One for 2019

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is former Kansas Jayhawk Lester Earl’s son. There’s a reason people in recruiting circles believe he’s a lock to KU, and it stems from his parental lineage, but beyond that, he lives in Kansas, and KU doesn’t lose out on in-state kids very often. Also, the Jayhawks have been recruiting Robinson-Earl for a while now.

Still, Robinson-Earl and Jontay Porter are friends from long ago, and they played together growing up. So getting both on campus together isn’t necessarily a bad idea from Missouri’s perspective. It could be enough to at least make Robinson-Earl think about his college decision a little bit.

The Jayhawks are in the clear driver’s seat, but there’s always a possibility of a curve ball and Missouri looks to be sitting on the curve ball in case it’s thrown.

A few thoughts on Knox

There was a collective freakout last night on Mizzou Twitter about Russ Wood’s comments on PowerMizzou about the coaching visits.

If you are a subscriber (and if you aren’t, I suggest you become one), you can go read all of Kevin Knox Sr.’s comments from the coaching visits Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m not going to repost anything, but the general reaction from many fans was one of panic.

2017 McDonald's All American games Powerade Jam Fest Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Here’s what we know: Mizzou is, and has been, playing from behind with Knox. Cuonzo Martin is going up against three of the bluest of blue-bloods in North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky. The other school in the mix is Florida State, his home school where his father played football.

Missouri has Michael Porter Jr. If Missouri didn’t have Michael Porter Jr., the Tigers would not be in this mix.

We also know this: Coach K, John Calipari, and Roy Williams can close. Roy Williams is coming off a national championship and back-to-back title game appearances. Cal routinely lands four to six 5-star kids every year. Coach K has had the best recruiting classes seemingly every year.

Cal and K have been involved with USA basketball on top of that. Right now, you’re talking about three of the most iconic coaches in college basketball, and they’re in your living room telling you a lot of good things. That is going to be impressive.

But here’s reality: Nothing has changed. There are five schools with a chance to land Knox, and Missouri is one of them. It is, and has always been, a tough battle to convince him to land in Columbia. I think Missouri is on better ground than anyone could have expected going in. I won’t be surprised to see Knox choose any of the schools but I’ll list them in order from where I would be least surprised to most surprise:

  1. Duke
  2. North Carolina
  3. Missouri
  4. Kentucky
  5. Florida State

Now, as I say this ... these are all minor varying degrees of surprise. From “huh” to “huh, ok.”

  • Coach K is always going to be tough to beat, and Duke will have a good roster with room on the wing for Knox. Does Grayson Allen returning to school change anything? Maybe. Who knows?
  • UNC has Joel Berry II and a solid interior group coming back next year, but the Tar Heels need a good wing, and Justin Jackson leaving leaves a big hole for them.
  • Kentucky doesn’t need Knox, and they know it.
  • Florida State is the landing spot if Knox wants to be the featured guy.
  • Knox can come and be the second-best guy to MPJ at Missouri if he wants.

We’ll see what happens. My recommendation, though, is to enjoy Missouri getting this much positive press. The Tigers are being discussed constantly by national types right now because of this. This is sending Mizzou back into the national collective thought. Their inclusion in this has essentially rebuilt Mizzou’s basketball brand without the Tigers winning a game. And that’s pretty cool.