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Missouri has to figure out whether it’s going to play big or play small

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With Jontay Porter officially on board, the Tigers have more size than they’ve had in a long time, but what is their best lineup going to be?

2017 McDonald's All American Game Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The dust is starting to finally settle on a whirlwind offseason that saw Mizzou end the tenure of Kim Anderson, hire Cuonzo Martin, and somehow find a way to sign the number four recruiting class in the country.

The depth Martin has been able to put into place is as important as the top-level talent. Simply getting Michael Porter Jr. on board wasn’t enough — he had to be surrounded by enough talent up and down the roster for Missouri to make full use of his skills and not end up with a Washington-Markelle Fultz situation. You see, Washington was only marginally better than Missouri was last year, and they had the No. 1 pick in the draft on their roster.

Enter Blake Harris, Kassius Robertson, C.J. Roberts, Jeremiah Tilmon and, finally, Jontay Porter.

Courtesy of KenPom, here is the depth chart over the final five games of the season last year:

Ken Pomeroy - kenpom.com

Now you have a very different looking depth chart:

Depth Chart-ish

Point Guard Combo Guard Wing Combo Forward Post
Point Guard Combo Guard Wing Combo Forward Post
Terrence Phillips Kassius Robertson Jordan Barnett Michael Porter Jr Jontay Porter
Blake Harris C.J. Roberts Cullen VanLeer Kevin Puryear Jeremiah Tilmon
Jordan Geist Brett Rau Adam Wolf Mitchell Smith Reed Nikko

For most of Anderson’s tenure, I was pleading online for them to employ a smaller lineup on the floor and try to win by spreading the defense out. Kevin Puryear may be an undersized post, but use that to your advantage and make him impossible to guard by matching him up against the opponent’s biggest guy. Jordan Barnett at the four? Sure, why not?

But as the roster has turned over, the Tigers have gotten much bigger. And Martin has long favored a more traditional lineup of two bigs, two wings and a point guard. In a lot of ways this roster is more favorable to a bigger lineup. That is, until you get a deeper look at the personnel.

The X-Factor

Brace Hemmelgarn - Getty Images

A big, fat reason for the lineup flexibility is Porter, a virtually position-less player. MPJ is 6’10 and can play just about any role on the floor. He’s a good enough ball handler to bring the ball up against pressure (although I don’t think anyone is going to mistake him for a point guard), he’s athletic enough to defend inside, and his shooting range extends beyond the NBA three-point range. You can probably almost literally play MPJ anywhere on the floor and get away with it.

Because Porter is such a tough matchup for defenses, it can create a question for the coaching staff of how they want to attack, at least initially.

For a long time, I’ve been a proponent of playing MPJ at the ‘4’ and playing smaller, getting more athletic. Sam Vecenie of the new college basketball venture The Fieldhouse had this to say:

I tend to agree. Offenses in college basketball tend to function better when the guy playing the four can step out, shoot, and attack off the dribble.

Think about Jayson Tatum at Duke, Miles Bridges at Michigan State, or Jalen Jones at Texas A&M two years ago. All three players were considered more traditional wings by scouting services, and they’ll spend plenty of time there professionally. But the offense for their school got better when Tatum, Bridges and Jones stepped to the four.

Some call it ‘small ball,’ but it’s not really when your four is still 6’10.

Jontay & Jeremiah

They almost sounds like a Christian folk duo, but Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon both anticipate playing big roles this season. Add in Reed Nikko, who should earn a little time as well, and you’ve got a trio of players capable of playing the center position. If Mitchell Smith is healthy, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he finds a role as well. Smith is tall, long and fast and has some skill.

Tilmon and Nikko are both more traditional back-to-the-basket bigs, with Tilmon having bigger upside in terms of athleticism and skill. Nikko is a big dude, though, and could come in handy to lean on opponents’ bigs for a bit if Tilmon or Jontay get into foul trouble.

Yet, with Tilmon and Jontay being such different players, and Jontay being having the ability to stretch the floor, a lot of people are already envisioning a lineup of MPJ, Jontay and Tilmon in the front court. That’s a 6’10, 6’10, 6’11 front court, which is quite tall and something we aren’t used to.

But does going big hurt the possible strength of this team? Having two bigs plus MPJ on the floor means you’ll see floor spacing look more like this.

Lots of people in the middle of the floor. Jontay, and someone like Puryear, are skilled enough to push out to the 3-point line. This is why the advent of a new offensive look is so vital for this team. Push to four-out-one-in and you get this.

SPPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACING! It’s something I’m fond of.

So, go big or go small?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter when you have Jontay or Puryear on the floor or whether you go big or small. Both are skilled enough to pull defenders away from the basket, and frankly there’s enough versatility on the roster that you’d have to think Cuonzo Martin will be able to go big and go small depending on his mood or the opponent.

Against Texas A&M, a team with a big strong front court, you go big. Against Ole Miss or Florida maybe you go small.

What we know is Michael Porter Jr. is going to be the focal point of the offense, and Porter, Tilmon, Puryear, Barnett, and a host of guards are all gonna play. For the first time in a while, Missouri has the depth to start a game and just figure out their best lineup that night and ride it. And at the same time, they can get away with a host of different lineups.