Three commitments in 10 days and it feels a bit like a whirlwind for the Missouri Tigers.
Since the wrap of the 2020-21 season, Cuonzo Martin seems like he’s been quietly trying to do a nearly full reset on his roster. Perhaps he knew what we could see, in that next year looked like it would be a tough one with who was returning and who was leaving.
For a while now we’ve expected the senior class to be gone, despite the NCAA giving them the chance for a free return. And so far only Mark Smith has taken advantage of the extra year by transferring to Kansas State. Meanwhile, with five seniors on their way out, and five incoming freshmen, the roster in the middle was looking thin. There were players who were loved and enjoyed, but there wasn’t a lot of production. That production took a larger hit when you subtracted Xavier Pinson, even though he wasn’t really expected to return for much of the year.
In need of replacing a LOT of production, and recognizing the incoming freshman class was good but maybe not elite, Martin made the decision to pursue more of a full on reset and take his chances on the transfer portal.
Into the portal went Torrence Watson, Parker Braun, Pinson, and Ed Chang. And so far Martin has extracted Amari Davis, DaJuan Gordon, and Jarron ‘Boogie’ Coleman. Leaving just two scholarships left, and the most likely players to fill those spots are likely coming from the portal as well.
A quick note on the eligibility aspect since the question has been raised: Until the individual player states otherwise, I’m fully expecting to treat each guy as though this past year is counting against their eligibility. As you can see above, all the additions from this spring were listed as sophomores in their previous season, so next year they’ll be juniors. If guys come back, we’ll adjust.
One thing I’ve noticed about the additions, and a lot of Cuonzo’s additions to the roster over the last few years, really... they seem to be addressing a specific need. Last spring, Zo added two mostly lackluster players in Ed Chang and Drew Buggs. But if you go a little deeper, both players addressed a direct need.
Chang — even though he didn’t play a minute for the Tigers — brought in shooting at the combo forward spot. If he’d have been able to crack the rotation, the expectation was that he would be able to provide some much needed shooting out of the wing and combo forward spot. Meanwhile, Buggs, for all his limits offensively, was a careful ball handler and a capable ball mover. He wasn’t going to suck up a lot of possessions and instead was going to work the ball to other more capable guys.
So what does that mean for the guys we have now?
It means that, while Martin wasn’t able to add a single player who is far and away the leader in the scoring column next year, he’s added three pieces who address specific needs.
In an ideal situation, you find a tough, athletic lead guard who can score at all three levels and is an elite competitor and defender. But ideal situations don’t always materialize because those guys are usually turning pro rather quickly. Instead, Martin looked at what he could get from multiple players and let the individual players decide what works best through practice. So he’s got three guys with three differing skill sets who are going to fit into the roster and likely get much of the fan base excited about the potential.
- Amari Davis: a skilled off-the-ball guard who excels in the mid range and in the open floor, but is capable in ball screens and a developing shooter.
- DaJuan Gordon: a tough physical wing who excels on defense and is a plus athlete. While his offense is hit and miss, he plays hard and competes, and is a tough physical rebounder.
- Boogie Coleman: a slick ball handler with good size, Coleman isn't explosive but he’s crafty and he’s shown a near elite ability to shoot and score around the basket.
Three guards, three different players, three different styles. When you can’t land a runaway elite player, you put together that production by committee. Maybe there isn’t one 19-20 point scorer, but if you can get 20 points from 3 guys, and make them efficient when they’re taking their shots, it makes you more competitive.
With a group of talented freshmen coming in, you want to alleviate as much burden off of them as possible. By supplementing with transfers and more reliable players, you’re able to set or raise the floor of what the team might’ve looked like otherwise.
Maybe you worry about Davis and Gordon’s shooting, rightfully so. Davis only shot 28% from deep, and Gordon only shot 23%. You hope both can improve as both shot at least 78% from the free throw line last year. Free throw shooting typically indicates solid shooting form and technique. But if it doesn’t happen, you still point them to their strengths. But you don’t worry about shooting with Coleman; he shot 42.5% from deep. And he was coming off foot surgery and finished his last five games shooting over 46%.
One of the things that made this past year’s team tougher is they knew who they were. Knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses, becoming Drew Buggs as a college basketball team personified.
Next season, Missouri is going to field another flawed basketball team, full of players with their own individual flaws. Either they can’t shoot, or struggle defensively, but the good news is the coaching staff is finding diversified skill sets and collecting guys who can do a lot of different things. With a couple more spots, they still need an interior presence— somebody to defend and rebound (just say no to Kansas, Christian Bishop). You’d also like to see maybe one more ball handler.
But otherwise, the three additions are enough to change the outlook of the team going into next season. A little more hopeful.