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Mizzou Hoops Notebook: Tigers not surprised by outside expectations

Despite internal optimism about the upcoming season, the Tiger players say they aren’t surprised at the lack of expectations from the media.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve got Tigers basketball tonight!

And a new Tigers basketball beat writer to introduce! Matt Antonic joins us this season to give you coverage of the Tigers upcoming hoops season. He’ll join in with our Football beat writers Ryan Herrera and Sean MacKinnon to be there for each and every game and give you all the news and notes! You can follow Matt on twitter: @AntonicMatt

We’re still working on his authorship privileges on the site, so until that’s worked out we’re posting this for him.

Mizzou Basketball Notebook

Tigers Hope to Use Lack of Respect as a Motivator

When the SEC released its preseason media poll, one thing was made very clear regarding Missouri: The national media had incredibly low expectations for the Tigers. Mizzou was picked to finish 13th in the conference, coming off of a 5-13 finish in SEC play.

Torrence Watson told media members that head coach Cuonzo Martin indicated to his team they would be picked near the bottom, so it was no surprise when the news came.

“You’re going to be placed somewhere between 9 and 14,’” Watson said. “And when it came back he was like ‘what did I tell you?’”

When he spoke to the media last week, Martin’s expectations seemed to be more in line with the KenPom and AP preseason rankings, which had Mizzou at No. 39 and No. 34, respectively. Martin added that if the Tigers finish 13th in the SEC this season, it would, “Be one of the best leagues to ever lace them up in all of college basketball.”

When the poll was released, Martin simply wrote the number 13 on the board inside the locker room and left it up for everyone to see.

“Everyday we wake up, we should see that 13,” sophomore Xavier Pinson said. “Everyday we practice, we should see that 13. When we get on the court, we should think that, every team they put in front of us, we should show that they shouldn’t have put them in front of us.”

Mark Smith: Ready to go

In Missouri’s 72-62 loss at Arkansas back in January, Mark Smith suffered the foot injury that would eventually end his sophomore season.

Smith had surgery in February and has spent the offseason rehabbing, returning to practice last Monday.

“I’m feeling good,” Smith said. “My body feels good. I’m ready to go.”

The Tigers desperately missed Smith’s production and outside shooting once he went down last season. In the 19 games Smith played in, he averaged 11.4 points per game, shooting an eye-popping 45% from three-point range. After his injury in Fayetteville, Mizzou’s offensive struggles increased, and the team went just 5-10 to close the season.

Ball-handlers Focused on Eliminating Turnovers

Fans that have followed the last two teams have been conditioned to expect an exorbitant amount of turnovers. The 2017 and 2018 Tiger squads both turned the ball over on 18.2% of their possessions.

With increased depth and a plethora of experienced guards, especially the return of Mark Smith and addition of transfer guard Dru Smith, the Tigers are hopeful that they will do a better job handling the ball this season.

“One thing that we’ve seen was our fatigue,” Pinson said. “We have to have the right stamina the whole game so we won’t be tired and then start losing the ball.”

Pinson himself struggled mightily with turnovers last season, coughing up the ball on 27.1% of his possessions. Outside of that, he showed plenty of flashes of his offensive talent, dazzling with highlight reel assists.

Pinson said Martin has been especially focused on eliminating turnovers in practices this year, starting with the stamina of his players.

“We’ve got good conditioning,” Pinson said. “This year, we’ve done more taking care of the ball.”