In March of 2021, Cuonzo Martin was finishing up a surprisingly good season. While it ended in the disappointment of a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, Missouri surpassed expectations. The result also triggered a contractual clause that escalated his buyout. Practically speaking, it was an auto-extension, locking Martin in for several more seasons.
With that security, Martin embarked on a roster overhaul, blending mid-major transfers with developmental freshmen. But life in college sports comes at you fast. It certainly did last season. Mizzou’s reset went haywire. The Tigers were shelled in rivalry games by an average of 31.3 points, looking more like an overwhelmed low-major than a competitive power-conference roster.
Last year was always going to be a step back, but you can’t be hapless in those matchups. And so, Martin was shown the door. Dennis Gates arrived from Cleveland State and ushered in another roster flip. How will it look for the Tigers?
Let’s talk it out.
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- 14. Mississippi State Bulldogs
#9 Missouri Tigers
Last Season: 12 - 21 ( 6-13 in conference) No. 137 KenPom
My Prediction: 17 - 13 (8-10, 9th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 7.4 - 10.6 (9th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 11th in conference
KenPom Projection: 19 - 12 (8-10 in conference) No. 41
HEAD COACH: Dennis Gates | 1st Season, 0-0
When Mizzou went looking for a coach, there weren’t many fans who had their eyes on Cleveland. We would know, too. Gates’ name recognition was low among the options thrown around for the job, so it caught many by surprise when athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois tapped Gates for the gig.
Yet those who follow the sport closely aren’t entirely surprised. Gates has been on a steep trajectory from the start. After wrapping up his playing career at Cal, he served as a GA at Marquette and Florida State, rejoined Ben Braun’s staff in Berkeley, served as an associate head coach at Northern Illinois, spent two seasons at Nevada, and was summoned back to Tallahassee. Over eight seasons on Leonard Hamilton’s staff, he earned a reputation as a stellar recruiter. Still, Gates’ basketball acumen is sometimes underrated.
The program he took over at Cleveland State was in disarray. The previous staff, under Dennis Felton, was fired under confusing circumstances. Felton was let go at the worst possible time in mid-July. As a result, the roster was gutted, and Gates had to cobble it back together with only a month until classes began.
The Vikings took their lumps in Year 1, finishing 313th in KenPom but clawing their way to seven wins in Horizon League play. Then the switch flipped. CSU jumped 150 spots in KenPom, won a Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles, and earned an NCAA tournament bid. Last season, Gates won the league again, but CSU lost in the Horizon League tournament semifinals, costing him another NCAA appearance.
Gates parlayed that success into the hot board coaching carousel and landed at Missouri. His name was linked to jobs all over the country, but the Chicago native feels at home in Columbia. At least so far.
Seat Temp: FRESH
Since Norm Stewart retired near the turn of the millennium, MU has been all over the map. Recent history suggests the Frank Haith era wasn’t as bad as many think. At the same time, Kim Anderson’s three seasons left a deeper bruise than expected. Martin stabilized the program to a degree, earning two NCAA tournament bids in four seasons. But player development and recruiting steadily eroded, and his gamble ahead of his fifth season sank him. Last year wasn’t nearly as bad as what Kim Anderson produced, but it was close enough. And without the trust of the school’s leadership, it was easy, though expensive, to move on.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
The heart and soul of the Martin era at Mizzou ran through the chest of Javon Pickett. The Metro East native exemplified Martin’s approach — in ways good and bad. The wing worked relentlessly, but his ceiling as a three-star prospect was lower. He reached it quickly as a freshman, and MU was at its best when he filled a reserve role behind Mark Smith on the wing. It was easy to understand how Martin saw pieces of himself in Pickett. Yet Martin had been a top-50 prospect at Lincoln High, an All-Big Ten performer at Purdue, and a fringe-level NBA player. Despite their shared mentality, there was a skill gap — one Martin tended to overlook.
With Martin gone, Pickett sought a reboot of his own close to home, transferring to Saint Louis and joining a borderline top-25 program looking to contend in the Atlantic 10. He was one of nine departures. Many of the underclassmen who left struggled to carve out a defined role.
- Yaya Keita (Oklahoma): The 6-9 freshman, who was coming back from a torn ACL, cracked the rotation as a reserve big for MU, but he transferred to Oklahoma.
- Anton Brookshire (Iona): The freshman point guard’s jumper never came online. The staff didn’t give him much rope regarding mistakes.
- Sean Durugordon (Austin Peay): The wing’s intriguing skillset never came together, and he transferred out at mid-season
- Jordan Wilmore (Northwestern State): The 7-foot-3 big man slimmed down but remained a lightning rod of criticism. His lack of agility made it hard for him to leave an impact.
As for the transfers who filtered in, it was evident early that Martin and his staff miscast them. At Ball State, Boogie Coleman showed signs of an improving 3-point stroke and creativity as a secondary ball-handler. But instead of using him as a combo guard, Martin tasked him with running his offense. It didn’t work.
The same could be said of Green Bay transfer Amari Davis. Instead of putting him in actions to exploit a deadly pull-up game, MU’s offense tried to convert him to a floor-spacing wing. And finally, Kansas State DaJuan Gordon’s flaky jumper became semi-reliable late in the season — after MU used him poorly as a ballhandler inside pick-and-rolls.
If there was one piece that would have been vital to retain, it was combo forward Trevon Brazile, a lightly recruited forward with a ton of upside. A long athlete with a workable jump shot, Brazile took his NBA potential to Fayetteville and will now get to face MU twice a year.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
|Ronnie DeGray III||JR||CF||33||63.17%||12.64%||55.70%||15.48%|
Kobe Brown | SENIOR | COMBO FORWARD
You’re not often voted second-team All-SEC when your team endures the season MU experienced. That’s how impactful Kobe Brown was for the Tigers — in the right situations. Early on, Martin tried using the junior as an on-ball initiator, which sometimes ended with him swarmed by opposing defenses. Brown’s facilitation actually limited his overall usage rate because his teammates struggled to make shots.
Brown pulled off a tough act: improving efficiency on boosted possessions. How? He settled for fewer jumpers. Despite a 22-percent increase in playing time, he only attempted two more 3s than he did as a sophomore and nine less than he did as a freshman. Limiting those jumpers was wise because he’s shooting 23.9 percent from behind the arc.
Now, Brown faces another transition. He won’t be the only focal point offensively under Dennis Gates. But the good news is what he does well as a cutter, using touches in the mid-post, and as a stationary passer fit well in Gates’ offense. Brown will still have a significant role but won’t dominate the ball.
Only two other players return, one of them being Kobe’s brother, Kaleb. The younger Brown saw his playing time increase over the back half of the season and once some roster attrition set in. When he did play, Kaleb understood his job: move the ball, take the occasional spot-up jumper, and be on time rotating defensively. Unfortunately, his output as a scorer was modest — 4-of-14 from both 2-point range and 3-point range — and he struggled from the free-throw line. It will be interesting to see what kind of role the sophomore has this season.
UMass transfer Ronnie DeGray III is back for his junior campaign after emerging as a pleasant surprise last season. Like Kobe Brown, DeGray excelled off the ball as a cutter, slipping into gaps for dump-offs and notching putbacks. He didn’t shoot the ball from outside, but he’s shown before he’s a capable shooter. More than anything, he’s a guy who has a high basketball IQ. He’s intelligent and instinctual, and while he may be an afterthought for many Tiger fans right now, I wouldn’t count him out of the rotation at all. DeGray knows how to make his presence known.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|JR||Mabor Majak*||7'2||245||TRANSFER||Cleveland State||POST|
|JR||Noah Carter||6'6||235||TRANSFER||Northern Iowa||CF|
|SR||Isiaih Mosley||6'5||205||TRANSFER||Missouri State||WING|
|G-SR||D'Moi Hodge||6'4||180||TRANSFER||Cleveland State||WING|
|G-SR||Tre Gomillion||6'4||210||TRANSFER||Cleveland State||CG|
Isiaih Mosley | SENIOR | WING
There are impact players — and then there is Isiaih Mosley.
None of the newcomers will have a more significant impact than the Columbia native and Missouri State transfer. Mosley gets buckets. Lots of them. And if there was one asset MU has lacked in recent years, it’s a bona fide scorer.
His offensive output at Springfield was ridiculous, and he did it all so efficiently. He’s one of the few to average more than 20 points while shooting over 50 percent from 2-point range, 40 percent from deep, and 90 percent at the line. Per Synergy, Mosley posted 1.153 points per possession on isolation attempts and 1.250 PPP on guarded jumpers. It’s, as mentioned earlier, ridiculous.
Unsurprisingly, Missouri State funneled most of its offense through him (30.8% usage), and he made it count. Yet, despite that workload, Mosley ranked 13th in efficiency among other high-usage peers like Drew Timme, Zach Edey, EJ Liddell, and Keegan Murray. Impressive, no? And now Mosley is back to try doing it again in the SEC.
One of the reasons Martin was fired was his inability to land the type of talent needed to win big games, except when he got Aidan Shaw’s commitment. Shaw, who was ranked 59th in 247 Sports composite index, was the best recruit Martin signed since his initial 2017 class. The 6-foot-9 forward is an explosive athlete and already a top-notch defender. He’s a bit of a work in progress offensively, but all the tools are there.
Shaw is the only freshman signee, but he is joined on the roster by two of the top three JUCO transfers in the country. The first is the well-traveled Sean East II, a combo guard who played at UMass and Bradley before heading to John A. Logan College, where he led the country in scoring and was named the NJCAA-Division I Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. The other JUCO addition is Garden City Community College big man Mohamed Diarra, rated as the top junior college player in 2022. Diarra put up monstrous numbers as a sophomore. He has the size and skill level to develop into a good player, even if it takes a little bit to get acclimated to the level of play in the SEC.
Then there are the transfers. Gates brought in four players from his Cleveland State team a year ago. They include:
- D’Moi Hodge: The 6-4 wing averaged 15.4 points per game last season without dominating the ball and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Horizon League
- Tre Gomillion: The do-it-all wing also earned DPOY honors while suiting up for the Vikings and will serve as one of MU’s captains
- Mabor Majak: The 7-foot-2 big man was a late addition to fill the need for size along the front line
- Ben Sternberg: a former manager turned walk-on, will also help seed Gates’ culture into the roster
In reality, Hodge and Gomillion are the likeliest to see the floor. How much? That’s an open question. In the half court, Hodge excels as a spot-up threat, while his athleticism shows up shooting passing lanes or leaking out in transition. Meanwhile, Gomillion attacks the rim on bully-ball drives against smaller guards, scores as a baseline cutter or angle cuts from split action, and occasionally knocks down open jumpers. More than anything, Gomillion fills Gates’ need for a connector on offense.
Gates also imported DeAndre Gholston, a 6-5 wing at Milwaukee, from the Horizon League. When asked to initiate and power the Panthers’ offense last season, Gholston struggled. But he’s shown himself as a reliable catch-and-shoot threat, knocking down almost 38 percent of his attempts last season. Combine that with allowing just 0.734 PPP on defense, and Gates might have an experienced 3-and-D option in his rotation.
Gates’ first transfer addition was Northern Iowa combo forward Noah Carter, an All-Missouri Valley pick last season and a versatile threat as an undersized four. Additionally, Gates also brought in Clemson transfer point guard Nick Honor. Honor is a leader and has a very low turnover rate. He may not have been the splashiest addition, but he might be the most important.
Well, after Mosley.
|(1) Point Guard||Nick Honor||Tre Gomillion|
|(2) Combo Guard||Sean East||D'Moi Hodge||Kaleb Brown|
|(3) Wing||Isiaih Mosley||Deandre Gholston|
|(4) Combo Forward||Kobe Brown||Aidan Shaw||Ronnie DeGray III|
|(5) Post||Noah Carter||Mohamed Diarra||Mabor Majak*|
Figuring out the depth chart may be an ongoing thing for the first month or two. You can probably slot three players in the starting five: Mosley, Brown, and Honor. The questions come after that. Given how dogged Gates was in pursuing East, it’s not unreasonable to think he gets a crack at combo guard. But the biggest issue is in the post. Carter played some five at Northern Iowa, while Brown and DeGray saw spot duty there last season. As for Majak, he averaged 4.3 minutes per game in a mid-major conference. So, for now, I’ve slotted Carter in that role, but the hope has to be that Diarra acclimates quickly to high-major life.
Shaw can provide flexibility at the wing or combo forward spots, while Gholston’s shooting might allow him to spell Mosley. Meanwhile, Gomillion can play all three guard spots. Given that Gates is from Hamilton’s coaching tree, Mizzou could easily plan to play 11 or 12 guys.
My Projected Record: 17-13 | KenPom Projected Record: 19-12
|Nov 7||Home||Southern Indiana||256||W|
|Nov 20||Home||Mississippi Valley St.||360||W|
|Nov 23||Home||Coastal Carolina||176||W|
|Nov 26||Home||Houston Baptist||309||W|
|Nov 29||Away||Wichita State||83||L|
|Dec 17||Away||Central Florida||85||W|
|Jan 28||Home||Iowa State||62||W|
Braggin’ Rights has been the apex of the non-con schedule this decade. Not this season. Kansas comes to town for the first time since 2012. But to avoid giving you PTSD from looking at Bill Self, I’ve gone with a pic of Brad Underwood.
This schedule has one aim: stack up wins. MU’s first eight opponents have an average ranking of 270th in Bart Torvik’s preseason analysis. Of that group, the toughest test is a road trip to Wichita State, which is rated 113th. Maybe MU trips up against the Shockers, but there’s a very good chance it could be 9-0 when the Jayhawks arrive.
From there, the degree of difficulty ratchets up. After facing KU, MU has back-to-back neutral court games against UCF and the Illini. There’s also a visit from Iowa State in late January as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
|Jan 11||Away||Texas A&M||45||L|
|Jan 24||Away||Ole Miss||49||L|
|Feb 4||Away||Mississippi St||53||L|
|Feb 7||Home||South Carolina||78||W|
|Feb 18||Home||Texas A&M||45||W|
|Feb 21||Home||Mississippi St||53||W|
|Mar 4||Home||Ole Miss||49||W|
The sense of whiplash continues with a brutal opening stretch of SEC play against preseason top-10 teams in Kentucky and Arkansas. There’s a slight reprieve in a visit from Vandy, but then come road trips to Texas A&M and Florida, both of whom are potential NCAA tournament teams.
The goal: survive.
If the Tigers avoid a meltdown or steal a couple of wins, the rest of the docket sets up nicely for the next six games. Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU — all potential Quad 1 or Quad 2 opponents — come to Mizzou Arena. Meanwhile, three road games — Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and South Carolina — are manageable. Finding a way to go 4-2 and picking up a quality win or two would go a long way to helping Gates’ squad get into the bubble conversation.
After trips to Tennessee and Auburn, MU gets a favorable run-in before the SEC tournament. Claiming four wins and a mid-table finish isn’t out of the question. There’s a path to 10 or 11 wins. We’ll see if MU takes it.
We were in the same place last year, trying to project a refreshed roster. Of course, the names have changed, but the overall talent level might not be terribly different. Fortunately, Mosley is on that list.
Earlier in the spring, Matt Harris outlined what this roster does well and how it fits what Gates did schematically at his last stop. That’s fine. But there is something to be said about having a guy who can get a bucket.
Sometimes, your offense doesn’t work. But it’s what happens after the disruption that matters. And not every team in the league has a guy who can get points when it matters.
Just starting from that point makes a difference.
Next, you need to value the basketball, another team deficiency a season ago. Missouri coughed the ball up 21.6 percent of the time. That ranked 339th in Division I. That’s bad. Really bad.
To combat this, Gates went hard after Honor, whose worst career turnover rate is 13.3 percent. Then, he added East, a point guard and JUCO player of the year. While at Bradley, East only gave the ball away on 17 percent of possessions. Last season, he averaged over 20 points and 5.6 assists per game with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
With Honor and East around, Kobe Brown can move off the ball, doing what he does best as a secondary option attacking the rim. Last season, Brown was a bit miscast. He’s a savvy facilitator and strong finisher, but he’s not a natural initiator with the ball in his hands. Now, Gates can trade pick-and-rolls for touches that put Brown at the elbow and mid-post, which should do wonders for his efficiency.
Aside from Mosley, there should be improved shooting around Brown, too. Hodge and Gholston immediately spring to mind, while Carter and Diarra have flashed the ability to knock down shots and draw defenders out. Reliable ball handling, an elite solo scorer, and some semblance of floor-spacing. Now you’re onto something.
That’s not to say MU is going to be a great team.
It’s still undersized. The only player slotted as a true post player is Mohamed Diarra, and he’s developed a skill set that takes him away from the basket more often than not. So how will the Tigers compete against back-to-the-basket bigs like Oscar Tshiebwe, Collin Castleton, or even Charles Bediako?
You also rely on Mosley, Carter, and Hodge to translate their games efficiently. We’ve seen what happens when it falls flat. So, while there is excitement, there are a lot of questions about the roster this season. And legitimate ones.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
Any coaching change naturally breeds optimism — even if its for the future instead of this first season. But there’s a world where the results exceed expectations. Honor knows his job is to initiate offense, move the ball, and pick his spots as scorer. The roster is filled with excellent rim finishers like Kobe Brown, DeGray, Carter, and Gomillion. One of the nation’s elite scorers can drive production. And you can easily envision roles for the likes of Shaw and Gholston. If the pieces fit and Mosley’s game carries over, the Tigers could finish middle of the pack.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
With so much turnover and so many up-transfers, it will likely take Mizzou a little while to get acclimated. And without any actual size up front, they might find themselves under siege at the rim and on the defensive glass. While we’re optimistic about Mosley and Brown, there aren’t any proven natural scorers at the high-major level. Missouri should be better and more competitive than last year, but is it enough to get them to the postseason?
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in “the Masses” picks. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.
* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team
%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.