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Can Cuonzo Martin turn this season’s success into a big recruiting offseason?

Missouri has been mired in mediocrity for years, but a breakthrough might provide the boost Martin needs.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue to ride the high of Mizzou’s win over the Tennessee Volunteers, a large segment of the fanbase likes to keep their eyes on recruiting to determine future success. Not to be weirdly philosophical, but no future is ever promised, and certainly Mizzou basketball fans, and Cuonzo Martin in particular, know that much. The last few years have been tough on everyone.

For two years, I’ve been saying the program just needs a break. Cue the weird COVID impacted 2020-21 season, where all the things Missouri is propels them ahead of teams who they aren’t. As Kentucky, Duke, and North Carolina struggle, veteran teams like Missouri are busting out. Now, the question is— Can Martin use that momentum to lay the groundwork for a breakthrough on the recruiting trail?

I’ve already talked about how much I like the 2021 recruiting class, even though we know it’s unfinished. The five member class isn’t the most heralded, but the upside for each player has been noted by recruiting experts. More help is needed with Missouri likely losing their senior class of Jeremiah Tilmon, Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith and Drew Buggs. As well as the possibility of losing anyone to transfer or professional opportunities (looking at you, Xavier Pinson).

So what does a good offseason look like?

It’s been awhile since we looked at the scholarship graphic so let’s dive in.

mizzou basketball scholarship count 9-10-20

Last week, Sean Durugordon enrolled early and filled a vacant scholarship this spring, and theoretically, there’s only one available next year. But I’d think Missouri is planning on finding two spots once the season winds to a close. Maybe Pinson returns for his senior year, and someone decides to transfer. Either way, I think they’re looking to fill a couple spots in the spring. If you look at the breakdown of the roster by position, we can start to glean where the Tigers might be hunting.

mizzou basketball roster by position 9-11-20

So far, it’s entirely possible Torrence Watson and Ed Chang are juniors next year, but aside from that you can clearly see a pressing need: ball-handling. This image was from September. If we’re updating the forecast, it’s logical to slide Parker Braun down to the post and shift Kobe Brown to combo forward. Those moves explain they need to hunt for another guard.

So, adding a scoring guard who can handle the ball, and a point guard would do the roster some wonders for next year. I’d prefer they come from the transfer market, either graduate or immediately eligible types. That said, Missouri checked in recently on a 2021 point guard out of Orlando, Florida.

Missouri hasn’t offered A.J. Neal, and we can only assume the staff hasn’t gone all-in on him at this stage. The staff reportedly reached out to Nimari Burnett, a former five-star prospect who transferred from Texas Tech at the semester break. Yet Burnett, a Chicago native, appears to fancy Illinois.

Obviously, it’s way too early to project the full array of options the Tigers will have in the portal, but we can say it’s unlikely they make an addition in the near future. Adding Durugordon precluded that move. However, we should have a better idea about the work in front of the staff within two or three weeks of the season wrapping up. By then, MU will have more players to pick from and a better idea as to what their specific needs are.

The real key: 2022

In most cases, the 2022 recruiting class will be mostly in order by the time the 2021-22 season starts. Missouri is pursuing several players who have repeatedly mentioned the Tigers in their top group in interview after interview.

This season putting the Tigers back into the national conversation could have real impact on several of Martin’s top targets. For one, they continue to be mentioned with five-star combo forward and Kansas City area native Mark Mitchell. Martin and Missouri were one of his early suitors, and the program has developed a good relationship with him. In the same article linked above, Blue Valley’s Aidan Shaw, a long four-star wing is also listed as having Missouri as an early favorite.

Both Mitchell and Shaw are long jumbo wings with enough athleticism to play around the rim. But they aren’t the only recruits with elite level length and a viable and translatable skillset on the radar. Missouri is obviously still in pursuit of Tarris Reed, a four-star forward out of Chaminade. And recently, the Tigers extended an offer to Braeden Moore, a fast-rising prospect from Tennessee.

Moore is a 6-foot-8 shooter from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville. He’s an elite level shooter and is a highly skilled player.

Another recent offer is center Kel’el Ware, a four-star prospect from North Little Rock in Arkansas. He joins fellow Arkansan Derrian Ford, a four-star combo guard, on the Tigers’ recruiting board. Arkansas usually recruits really well in their home state. But we also know Eric Musselman’s approach to recruiting is unique. He tends to prioritize transfers, and at times, freshmen take a back seat early on. At the moment, Moses Moody sees ample minutes and possessions, but Khalen Robinson and Davonte Davis are both in-state products who are biding their time. You have to wonder if it creates an opening for MU to exploit, especially when the Tigers are in the process of resetting their roster.

There’s also Isaac Traudt, a 6-10 combo forward who went from an unknown in the spring to a top-50 talent. Missouri tried to get a foot in the door early, but blue bloods have started entering the picture. I want to write him off as an unlikely option, but he mentions MU in almost every interview.

Meanwhile, there are still viable options regionally, namely CBC’s Larry Hughes Jr. and Pattonville’s Kellen Thames. (Yes, we’re all old.) But keep an eye on prospects such as Braxton Stacker, Taj Manning, Jeremiah Talton and Braden Applehans.

I’m sure once the season wraps up we’ll have time to dive further into the waters of the 2022 class. There should be time to determine who Missouri is most interested in and whether any of these local players receive an offer.

The bottom line is the 2022 class has a chance to do something Cuonzo Martin hasn’t quite accomplished yet: stack recruiting classes. The 2021 group is filled with high-upside pieces, but success in 2022 could see MU supplement them with recruits who you might expect to make a quicker impact — and cement the program as a longer-term contender in the SEC.

Missouri has set themselves up for a strong finish to the 2021 season, and it could lead the program to the breakthrough we’ve all bee looking for.