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Mizzou has a massive front court, but can they take over games?

Mizzou’s three post players average 7 feet tall. But will that height translate to impact?

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

Well, here we are folks. It’s officially game week. In two days we will, at this point anyway, be watching Mizzou Tigers basketball. Of course, there’s still time between now and Wednesday night, and COVID-19 has proven to be unforgiving in the way it cancels sporting events. But I digress... it’s coming, whether on Wednesday or at a later date.

We’ve spent the last few weeks in a mad scramble trying to preview this season, in part because we’ve only recently learned the full structure of Mizzou’s schedule — or at least what the schedule is supposed to look like. What we do know is the roster. And one of the very few things we know definitely about the roster are the measurements of the players. Specifically the post players.

I’m trying to find a more clever way to say this, but I’ll just come right out and say it — the’re massive, y’all. Between Jeremiah Tilmon, Mitchell Smith, and the newcomer Jordan Wilmore, Mizzou’s front court averages 7’ in height. The smallest of the three is Jeremiah Tilmon, who is also a powerful, graceful athlete. Seems good, no?

Of course, pure measurables don’t always equate to success. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years wondering why Tilmon (and, to a degree, Smith) isn’t more dominant. Between fouling issues and injuries, it seems like Tilly’s always been a step away from dominance. Could 2020-2021 be the year he realizes his massive potential? (Editor’s note: yes. yes he will.)

How about Smith? Is the year he turns into the stretch big he’s been aiming to become? And what about the new guy, the really tall one? How does he fit into the equation?

We’ll try to sort it all out in the last of our Mizzou Hoops position previews today.

The Players

2019-2020 Statistical Profile

Players Mitchell Smith (R-Sr.) Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr.) Jordan Wilmore (Fr.)
Players Mitchell Smith (R-Sr.) Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr.) Jordan Wilmore (Fr.)
Minutes % 52.6 27.2 -
Effective FG % 42.1 59.4 -
True Shooting % 48 60.8 -
Off. Reb. % 7.2 12.3 -
Def. Reb. % 19.1 13.4 -
Assist Rate 6.3 8 -
Turnover Rate 11.4 25.2 -
Steal % 1.9 0.9 -
Block % 1.7 7.8 -
Fouls Created/40 min. 5.3 5.3 -
Fouls Drawn/40 min. 2.6 5 -

The Preview

Every year we do this preview, and every year we ask this question. So as we sit here on the edge of a four-year career, we must once again ask: Is this the year that Jeremiah Tilmon takes the step becoming the consistent, dominant post player he has shown he can be?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Illinois Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: It depends on what you expect from a traditionally-skilled big in the modern game of basketball, but I do believe that a healthy Jeremiah Tilmon could surprise a lot of people in his senior season. If you go over his KenPom profile, he’s steadily improved in just about every meaningful stat aside from defensive rebounding rate — effective field goal percentage, true shooting, assist rate, fouls drawn, fouls created, etc. The real difference last year was that his injury and absence zapped our chances of seeing those improvements against meaningful SEC competition.

So if he does stay healthy, is he going to be a Kofi Blackburn level stud, averaging a double-double night in and night out? Hate to break it to you, but probably not. We’ve learned in four years that Jeremiah Tilmon is a more deferential player on offense and a potentially brilliant (while oft-maddening) defender. Tilmon will always be an aggressive player who averages more fouls than we’d like. But he’s never failed to improve in that arena either. So while he probably won’t be an All-American level big, an All-SEC campaign isn’t out of the question if the stars align in the right ways for Tilly.

Jacob Giancola, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: Being the optimist that I am, I want to believe that this is Tilly’s year. It’s been so frustrating to see him struggle with being consistent the last couple of years. If he wants to make it to the NBA, this is going to have to be his year. That means averaging at least 10 and 8 a game and managing to stay out foul trouble when needed.

Another factor that I believe will contribute to how well Jeremiah performs this year is how well our point guards play. If Dru Smith is dealing on all cylinders this season, that makes our offense that much more threatening. Which, I think, would open up the floor a bit more for Tilmon.

Kortay Vincent, Basketball Beat Writer: I actually think this is the year that Jeremiah breaks through. It’s undeniable that the kid has tons of talent and is a freak; we just haven’t seen him put it all together. However, I think declaring for the draft and getting minimal interest will be a big motivator his senior year. It’s now or never for Jeremiah, and I think he will finally answer the call and be the player people said he was out of high school.

Mitchell Smith has stuck around in the Cuonzo Martin era and carved out a role as a staple rotation guy who provides energy and mismatch potential. Is there another element to his game that could emerge in his senior season?

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

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: Mitchell Smith has never been a hesitant shooter, and I think we’ve yet to see him for what he really is in that arena. In his sophomore season, he took 24 threes and shot 41.7 percent. Last year, he nearly tripled his output and dropped to 29.4. Aside from regression to the mean, it’s plausible to think an offseason of working on his shot could lead to a percentage in the low-to-mid 30s. Honestly, that would be a welcome development for the Tigers, who aren’t afraid to throw Smith out there for important minutes. By no means should he be taking 68 shots from deep again this season, but 40 to 50 wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially if he continues to defend hard and rebound well.

Jacob Giancola, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: It’s tempting to say that if Smith developed a consistent shot from beyond the arc, he would end up being a consistent starter on this team. However, I think it’s a bit of a stretch. Like Josh mentioned, Smith shot a fair percentage from three his sophomore season, but the number of attempts was rather low. One thing I am confident about is Smith’s ability to work hard. His playmaking ability needs no further explanation; if you play hard you’ll see the hardwood. I expect nothing less from Mitchell Smith this season.

Kortay Vincent, Basketball Beat Writer: I don’t know if there is an element of Smith’s game that I see improving. I think his peak is essentially what he is now— a hustle guy who does the dirty work and improves the team’s energy. I don’t think he will improve in anything in particular other than what he is already good at. Meaning, we might just see more Mitch hustle plays. I don’t foresee him stepping up as a scorer or any other capacity, though.

Jordan Wilmore is the lone freshman on the team and is tantalizing simply because, well, how many 7’3” people do you know? What are your expectations for the only frosh in the 2020 class?

Twitter; @MizzouHoops

Josh Matejka: Spell Jeremiah Tilmon when he needs it. Block some shots. Improve your quickness with Nicodemus Christopher. Enjoy your freshman year.

That’s it. Nothing too complicated for the giant oak tree of a young man.

Jacob Giancola: There was not a whole lot of buzz about this guy coming out of high school despite the fact he’s larger than most refrigerators. I don’t expect that much production out of Wilmore this season, but that’s not to say he can’t help the team at all. As we all know, Jeremiah Tilmon is prone to getting foul calls rather frequently, so having a freshman like Wilmore in the rotation isn’t the worst thing. I’d like to see this kid develop into a monster.

Kortay Vincent: Honestly, my expectations are not too high. I know he is a colossal human being, but I don’t know how good of a basketball player he will be. He wasn’t highly regarded as a recruit, and I don’t know if he will make a role for himself as a contributor. I definitely think he is a work in progress, and that maybe after a year with the program, he will be able to contribute. I just think the story of a 7-footer who isn’t a great basketball player is a typical story that seems to happen way too often in college hoops.

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 each of the Tiger bigs in the 2020-2021 season.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Illinois Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Jeremiah Tilmon will have a week or two during conference play where he averages 16+ points and 7+ rebounds. We’ve yet to see Tilmon really carry a streak of hot play over weeks, and I think this is the year he does it.

Mitchell Smith will set his career high in scoring three different times this year. It won’t be hard the first time as he currently sits at 12 points as his career best, but he’ll get into the high teens at some point in the season.

Jordan Wilmore will probably make someone look absolutely foolish at some point this year. Swatting a shot into the stands without leaving his feet, mosquito-style. Dunking on some dude’s head and sending him flying into the padding. That type of stuff. It’s gonna happen at some point.

Jacob Giancola: This is Tilly’s year. My bold prediction is that Jeremiah leads the team in points and rebounds for the first half of the season. If he’s ever going to make it the league, he’s going to have to prove he’s a dominant force in college first.

Mitchell Smith is going to turn heads this year on the defensive side of the ball. I’d like to see Smith averaging a steal or two per game this season and a handful of boards to go along with them. He’s not the star of the team, but he’s going to contribute.

Jordan Wilmore is simply going to swat the absolute crap out of somebody and end up trending on twitter for a day. He may also break a rim or two this season.

Kortay Vincent: This is the year Jeremiah Tilmon finally breaks out. He tested NBA waters, he’s going to be motivated to finally reach his potential. This year it’s do or die for Jeremiah, and I think he finally steps up as a dominant post presence for the Tigers.

For Mitchell Smith, I really think it’s just more of the same from him, but my bold prediction will be that he makes a couple plays throughout the season that people look back and point to and say that play was so big for the Tigers in making their first tournament appearance in a few years.

For Jordan Wilmore, it’s tougher because I don’t know how much he is going to play. So my bold prediction for him is that he will carve out a role in the rotation, contributing as a role player by the end of the year.