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Mizzou Hoops needs a healthy Mark Smith to excel in 2020-2021

The senior is all alone on the combo guard depth chart. Can he return to form and stay healthy in his senior season?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

When Frank Haith took over the Mizzou men’s basketball program in 2012, he took a program strength of the 21st century and amplified it. He utilized small ball, three-point shooting and high efficiency shots to craft that season’s Missouri Tigers into KenPom’s first-ranked offense.

Since that year, Tiger offenses have been less prolific, and that’s putting it generously. Over the past eight seasons, Mizzou has averaged out to the 125th ranked offense in the country, or just about where they were in the second year of Cuonzo Martin’s tenure. That’s a pretty dreadful place for a program to be, as it requires one of the nation’s very best defenses to compensate. And while the defense has been stronger under Martin than Kim Anderson, it’s not been enough to consistently put the Tigers in the NCAA picture.

Heading into the 2020-2021 season, KenPom projects Mizzou to have the 62nd best offense in the country. That would be the best since 2018-2019 (otherwise known as Year of the Porter) and the second best since Frank Haith was walking the bench. And there’s no doubt a heavy part of that projection factors in the experience and skill of senior Mark Smith, arguably Missouri’s most dangerous offensive weapon.

We’re continuing today with our series of position previews ahead of next week’s tentative tip-off against Oral Roberts. We kicked things off last week with a look at Missouri’s depth and skill at point guard, and we’ll be working our way through the roster over the next week and a half.

The Player

2019-2020 Statistical Profile

Players Mark Smith (Sr.)
Players Mark Smith (Sr.)
Minutes % 51.3
Effective FG % 53.1
True Shooting % 55.8
Off. Reb. % 1.4
Def. Reb. % 16.1
Assist Rate 6.3
Turnover Rate 15.1
Steal % 2
Fouls Created/40 min. 2.6
Fouls Drawn/40 min. 3.2

The Preview

Mark Smith burst onto the scene in 2018-2019 and became almost everything fans expected him to be out of high school. However, injuries cost him a step last year and his numbers dipped as a result. Assuming Smith can stay healthy, is he capable of getting back to sophomore year levels?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: If you’re going by the numbers, I’ll go ahead and say no. As a sophomore, Smith shot 45 percent from deep while cooking up an assist rate of 12.3 and a defensive rebounding percentage of almost 20. Those are agreeable numbers for an off-ball guard, all of which took a hit when a more stable, ball-dominant presence arrived in the form of Dru Smith.

What I think we can expect, however, is a regression (progression?) to the mean when it comes to his shooting. Smith took a big step backward last year when it came to both effective field goal and true shooting percentages, perhaps because he was trying to force the Missouri offense out of stasis by the power of his jump shot. We’ve harped on this the past two years, but Smith is best when he’s engaged in all facets of the game, not just waiting for a catch-and-shoot. If he can focus less on the raw quantity of shots, he’ll create more space for others and himself, allowing him to approach some of those enticing 2019 numbers.

Kortay Vincent, Basketball Beat Writer: I think that if Smith can stay healthy he can 100 percent get back to the level he was playing at sophomore year. Injuries can completely change the way you have to go about your game because you have to compensate so much for them. Assuming that he is 100% healthy and able to stay that way, I would definitely think fans could see Smith really live up to his potential.

They’re not listed above, but there’s no doubt Mizzou’s three-headed point guard will be sharing some minutes at the combo guard position. How do the point players fit into this position group?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: First off, I think you can cross off Drew Buggs from this list. He’s a valuable piece of this experienced roster, but Cuonzo Martin didn’t grab Buggs out of Hawaii so he could come be a double-digit scorer in the SEC. So let’s go ahead and put that notion to rest.

As for Pinson and Dru Smith, it’s more likely you’ll see the latter switching roles. Smith is likely to keep the ball moving and on the perimeter when he’s not in the lead guard spot, so he might be the guy you go to in games with slower pace (sound familiar?) or when Missouri is trying to hold onto a lead. Not to mention, Smith is more reliable with the ball and will give you better production on the boards. To top it off, what exactly does Pinson provide off the ball that you couldn’t get with him and Smith on the floor together? I think it’s more likely you’ll see Smith slide over when Pinson is dominating possession, as he will help stabilize X’s more chaotic energy.

Kortay Vincent: Although he has struggled jump shooting at times, I think Xavier Pinson might see some minutes at the other guard spot and be more of a slashing guard who attacks the rim. He did see a slight bump in his percentage from 3 down the line last season, so if that continues it would allow him to play off the ball more when needed. However, I do think this spot is wide open, and it should be interesting to see who fills this role as the season gets underway.

We like to be reasonable and analytical here at Rock M Nation, but we don’t want to get too cautious because, hey, where’s the fun in that? Give us one bold prediction for Mark Smith in the 2020-2021 season.

NCAA Basketball: Chicago State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Mark Smith will make an All-SEC team in 2021. I don’t think he’ll approach the First Team, but I think we could see a senior campaign that earns him Second Team or All-Defensive Team honors. Smith has the pure skill and athleticism to be an all-conference type of player, but like many Mizzou Tigers of the past decade, he’s been asked to do too much. With Pinson and Dru Smith leading the offense and Jeremiah Tilmon making more improvements around the margins, Mark Smith will sneak under the radar on a lot of scouts, making for a big bounce back in his senior season.

Kortay Vincent: My bold prediction for Mark Smith this year is that he will lead the team in scoring. I think that if he can stay healthy he will be back to form and maybe even better than he was sophomore year. A lot of times, injuries can teach you something and humble you. Perhaps Mark Smith will come out guns-a-blazing this season and remind everyone why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school.