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The portal is wild, but it creates opportunity

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For better or worse, how a coach works the transfer epidemic leads to the next step for any program, but especially at Missouri.

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

As the news crept across my timeline about Torrence Watson becoming the fifth Missouri Tiger to enter the transfer portal, my eyebrow raised slightly. “Huh,” I thought. “Guess I’d better make a post.”

Those that read my posts regularly will know me as someone firmly planted in Watson’s corner. I fully admit to liking the kid a lot, liking his potential when he committed, and getting a little overzealous when he heated up down the stretch his freshman year. And if you know me, you’ll also know that I’m still in Watson’s corner... hoping he lands in a good place, with people as good as he is, and he finds whatever he couldn’t at Mizzou and becomes a star. I’m just sure it wasn’t going to happen at Missouri.

Watson joined Ed Chang, Parker Braun, Xavier Pinson, and Mark Smith in the transfer portal. The pandemic-impacted year meant Smith can play another season of college basketball, as he is expected to graduate this spring. And while Pinson’s decision caused much consternation, Braun and Chang both seemed to be met with a collective shrug.

Rumors of Parker’s family being in conflict with the coaching staff made it seem like the best move for both parties. While adding Ed Chang last spring made sense in a shot to elevate Mizzou’s outside shooting, Chang could never crack the rotation. With multiple long and athletic wings coming in, the path to playing time next season wasn’t going to get easier. But Watson seemed to hit different for a lot of folks. Was Watson leaving some kind of sign?

Was Cuonzo Martin in trouble with so many defections?

The reality is this kind of crazy offseason was always likely to happen. Transfers have been ramping up year over year, but last spring and summer there was no off-campus recruiting, meaning there was a lot more guessing going on than usual when teams were finalizing their rosters. Recruiting on its own is basically a guessing game, then trying to recruit to video and without seeing a guy on campus and mixing and matching with your own players makes the guessing even harder. We’re seeing the impact of the pandemic as players flood the transfer portal on a minute by minute basis.

Of course you can couple the lack of off-campus recruiting with the relative bubble most players have been in trying to give us all a season and it’s pretty plain to see that there’s a whole lot of young men who just need something else.

For Martin, it provides an opportunity to reset his own roster. One that was deep in great storytelling, but shallow on difference makers. He put a bunch of chips in the middle of the table with this last bunch and cashed out with a good, but not great season. Then facing heavy turnover at the top, and a less than reliable middle and bottom of the roster, he’s opted to gamble again... this time on the transfer portal.

With five freshmen coming in, one returning starter, and depth you can’t really count on night in and night out, why not work the portal? And that’s how Mizzou went from one available scholarship next season to five.

mizzou basketball scholarship count 3-31-21

The Tigers since added Amari Davis as a transfer from Green Bay, but they’ve otherwise kept a low profile reaching out to a handful of known prospects. And while the known players Mizzou has reached out to has been relatively light, the portal continues to widen and suck in more names. Meanwhile, coaches are changing jobs, and some are even retiring, opening up the potential for more change.

Just yesterday, Roy Williams called it a career. While it’s not very often Missouri recruiting and North Carolina recruiting cross paths, it did very notably last fall when the Tigers lost 5-star guard Caleb Love to the Tar Heels. Love recently announced a return to Chapel Hill for his sophomore season, but that was with the understanding Williams would be on the sidelines. The decision to retire is one Williams didn’t take lightly, but he didn’t exactly clue in his players until yesterday morning. So it’s understandable if Love and his family opt to change their direction as well.

Then last week, Shaka Smart left Texas for the job at Marquette, leading former prime Mizzou target and Kansas City, Kansas native Tamar Bates to request out of his letter of intent with Texas... putting him back on the market. With Bates available, Missouri will be in hot pursuit.

Now with Bates, and potentially Love on the market, along with 1,000 other players from all over Division 1, the strategy starts to make a little more sense. Martin needed to flip the roster, and now the roster is nearly completely flipped.

mizzou basketball roster by position 3-31-21

With four spots still needing to be filled, you’d have to think Martin and his staff will try to be patient with spots for Love and Bates. Brandon McKissic is announcing today and the prevailing thought seems to have Missouri right in the thick of the discussion. Regardless of that outcome, I’d encourage everyone to remain calm. There are a lot of players and there is a lot of time left to go.

I don’t expect Bates or Love to make hasty decisions. Their previous recruitments were methodical and processed, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be careful again. Without either, there are still a lot of players who can help move this whole thing forward. Whether it’s Marreon Jackson, Noah Gurley, Donovan Williams, or Brandon McKissic, there are good players all through the portal and Martin has a chance to change a lot of perceptions.

Right back to what I’ve been saying for months now... it’s an important offseason.