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Recruiting Reset: Missouri’s board shrinks ahead of important visits

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With Mario McKinney Jr. and E.J. Liddell on campus, Mizzou is focusing heavily on their top targets.

FloSports: FloHoops EYBL Session 2 Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Mizzou’s recruiting board certainly thinned out quickly.

This week we learned that combo guard and top-40 prospect Rocket Watts won’t take an official visit ($), junior college forward Khalid Thomas is all but done arranging his own trips ($), and wing Isiaih Mosley appears to have drifted out of the picture.

The only real question is how involved the staff remains for a pair of wings in Christian Braun and Antavion Collum. All available evidence suggest, though, the viability of each option is minute if existent at all.

These developments fill in more context around Mario McKinney Jr. and his shuffling schedule. On Monday, word filtered out that the Vashon product will venture to Columbia this weekend instead a long-planned trip to Kansas State. Practically, it creates a joint visit with childhood friend and prime Mizzou target E.J. Liddell, who remains uncommitted after taking a trip to Ohio State a week ago.

The prospect pecking order we laid out a couple weeks ago certainly looks different as Cuonzo Martin and his staff prepare for a crucial weekend.

Several weeks ago, MU looked every bit a contender for Watts, one of the best bucket getters in the 2019 class. McKinney, meanwhile, was on record stating a visit might not manifest itself until October. There was concern over whether Liddell would just end his recruitment in Columbus. And Braun, one of the country’s fastest rising prospects, hadn’t yet picked up an offer from Kansas.

For all intents and purposes, we’re down to three names that merit serious scrutiny: Liddell, McKinney and combo forward Tray Jackson. And two of them hit campus this weekend.

Step back for a moment look at that group, too. Scoring commitments from that trio would fill every potential roster hole confronting MU next season. The duo of Liddell and Jackson possess optimal skill sets to replacing Kevin Puryear and Jontay Porter. On the perimeter, Missouri’s pressing need for wings and ballhandling was alleviated by landing transfers Dru Smith and Mark Smith during the spring signing period. Their presence next would allow coach Cuonzo Martin to deploy McKinney’s athleticism, on-ball defensive and assertiveness — all traits Martin values — as an infusion of energy off the bench.

Let’s tease this hypothetical out. Here’s how the 2019-2020 roster could take form.

Potential Roster | 2019-2020

PG CG Wing CF Post
PG CG Wing CF Post
Dru Smith Mark Smith K.J. Santos E.J. Liddell Jeremiah Tilmon
Xavier Pinson Mario McKinney Torrence Watson Tray Jackson Reed Nikko
Javon Pickett Mitchell Smith

Meanwhile, Mizzou would still likely have a scholarship to use in the spring or it could use it on a prospect like walk-on Parker Braun. Point being, there’s a way for Missouri to fill its needs with high-end talent and still retain some flexibility once Martin’s second season wraps up. This being college hoops, there’s also the ever-present possibility of transfers or other exits creating more slots to fill.

Now, some quick handicapping

In our estimation on the most likely — to least likely to commit to Missouri.

Mario McKinney

Recruiting is never 100 percent. When you read the tea leaves on McKinney a lot of things seem to be falling into favor for Missouri. The recent unofficial visit coupled with the sudden change in official visit plans added to the recent change for Rocket Watts visit all seem to point to the marriage between McKinney and Mizzou. Mario has long been a target and fits a lot of what Cuonzo Martin wants to do with his program. Now take all of that information and look at the 247sports Crystall ball which seems to confirm what we and others believe. McKinney seems very likely to end up a Tiger at this point. I don’t expect a commitment this weekend, but one soon would not be surprising.

Tray Jackson

A confluence of events over the past several weeks works in Mizzou’s favor it pursues the combo forward out of Detroit. Xavier and coach Travis Steele has appeared to fill out frontcourt needs for this class. The Musketeers landed commitments from top-100 prospect Zach Freemantle and a sleeper in Dieonte Miles to pair Daniel Ramsey. While Jackson used a second official visit last week to Seton Hall, a source with knowledge of Jackson’s recruitment has consistently said MU appears to be positioned well ahead of making its pitch during an official visit slated for Sept. 22. A slight wrinkle popped up, however, on Thursday afternoon when word broke that Minnesota finagled a visit for this weekend. It’s also worth monitoring whether Jackson opts to use his final visit for trip to Virginia Tech. While it stings to see Rocket Watts back out of a visit, Martin and assistant coach Cornell Mann can now concentrate solely on locking down Jackson. And if our sources are correct, the odds are good they’re able to do so.

E.J. Liddell

As we said above, the Tigers make what amounts to a closing argument this weekend. The conventional wisdom over the past month held that Ohio State owned a slight edge in a five-team race, and maybe there’s still credence to that notion, but he left town without committing and Missouri gets to take their shot. Barring something unforeseen, Liddell seems intent on taking his time, weighing the pros and cons and being thoughtful in his deliberations. (Now watch him commit in the next two weeks.) After all, he had this to say to the Ohio State 247 site:

“Right now, the plan is to take all five official visits,” Liddell said. “But it could end up just being two or three.”

Liddell did say his current plan is to sign with his college choice in the early signing period in November.

Others

  • From the top three the list gets weird and interesting. Christian Braun, the brother of Mizzou walk-on Parker Braun and a Mizzou legacy, seems to be floating away from the Tigers. The reality of the situation has a talented wing who is a bit of a late bloomer who has a lot of really good options open to him, and Mizzou doesn’t really need a wing. With McKinney in the primary position for a guard spot, Braun looks to be an unlikely option.
  • Khalid Thomas has one official visit to plan and we haven’t heard a word on Mizzou being in the mix for the spot so it seems unlikely he’s still a legitimate option.
  • The news on Isaiah Mosley seems to change almost daily and today it seems to have Mizzou out of the picture and Minnesota and Missouri State entering the picture. It’s still possible things change but ultimately I think you can count Missouri out on Mosley.
  • Antavion Collum hasn’t been mentioned in just about any list or article that didn’t mention Ole Miss as the leader so it seems this ship is sailing if not completely sailed.
  • Deeply embedded sources have Harlond Beverly putting the brakes on his recruitment just a bit, but also Missouri being a little... should we say... OUT of the picture. It’s possible if Beverly lets this extend into the spring the Tigers can re-enter the picture but for right now we’ll consider Mizzou out of the picture on Beverly.