On Tuesday afternoon, just before I went on the radio actually, the news broke that K.J. Walton was going to transfer from Missouri. Shortly after, Mizzou confirmed that Frankie Hughes would be leaving as well.
On the scale of completely shocked to completely expected, both fell somewhere in the middle. I don’t know if I’d be completely shocked by news of anyone on the roster transferring, but considering the path laid out by Cuonzo Martin and his new staff, losing players off the wing isn’t surprising at all.
Soon, Michael Porter Jr. will be playing lots and lots and lots of minutes on the wing for the Tigers. And the Tigers hope Kevin Knox will be playing lots and lots and lots of minutes on the other wing. They’ve also got Jordan Barnett, who’s proved to be pretty danged good and figures to play lots of minutes on the wing. Those three players won’t leave much behind in terms of minutes if it all comes together.
With three open slots, it looks like Missouri is putting quite a bit of stock into landing Blake Harris and Kevin Knox. It’s easier to feel more confident in Harris, but putting too much stock into Knox could be tricky considering the recruiting waters he’s floating in.
The way the roster lays out right now might show where the need is:
- PG: Terrence Phillips
- CG: Jordan Geist, C.J. Roberts
- WING: Cullen VanLeer, Michael Porter Jr.
- CF: Jordan Barnett, Jakoby Kemp
- POST: Kevin Puryear, Reed Nikko, Mitchell Smith
So there are now seven projected players who don’t handle the ball much, and three who do. So ... who is gonna handle the ball? (Besides Phillips, obviously.)
The first name is and continues to be Blake Harris. Roberts can help, as can Geist, but Harris is a better bet because he is a natural point guard. Martin could focus on the transfer market some, but only grad transfers are going to help immediately. I’m sure they’ll want to maximize the roster while MPJ is in town.
Maybe this is where the staff, now fully assembled, starts to prioritize some of the available graduate transfers, like a Virginia’s Darius Thompson. We know they’ve at least reached out to Washington’s Matthew Atewe, Miami (Ohio’s) Michael and Marcus Weathers, and Bryant’s Nisre Zouzoua. But outside of those guys who have been “checked in on,” there isn’t much we know.
I expect that all to change as we meet our new coaches and as Martin has a chance to fully flesh out his plan.
Notes on the coaches
I’ll start with the lesser known quantity in Chris Hollender.
Hollender is a grinder. He’s got a good reputation with player development, specifically coaching bigs. He’s a former post player from Evansville and coached there before landing on Rick Ray’s staff at Mississippi State, where he landed Quindarry Weatherspoon.
Cornell Mann is a much more experienced guy and somebody Mizzou fans should rightly be excited about. He’s beloved in Ames and has thorough ties in Michigan and Ohio. He helped draw Monte Morris to Iowa State, and Morris was a Michigan kid. Mann brings chops with getting players and building them up as well. He’s typically worked with guards and is an excellent bench coach. Cuonzo made Mann a priority fairly early on, and I think these two will work well together.
I like these two hires for a very specific reason. Hiring Michael Porter Sr. obviously has the upside of drawing his sons to play on your team, and having MPJ immediately elevates the profile of the program and generates mass excitement. Jontay will do the same, whether he reclassifies and plays in 2017-18 or signs next year. (I don’t want to assume Jontay will play where his dad coaches, but it’s a fairly safe bet).
However, with the benefit comes the risk of hiring a basketball coach with very little experience at this level. Before coming to Mizzou, Porter Sr. had not coached much beyond some work on AAU teams. He then spent a lot of time on the women’s staff before coaching one year at Washington. So there is risk in inexperience there.
Mann and Hollender mitigate that risk. They are both experienced, grizzled veteran coaches who have been in the Big 12 and SEC. They have recruited high-level athletes and have been on the bench for some good teams. Cuonzo still has work to do, but setting his staff means he can start focusing on building the roster past this weekend.