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Rock M Roundtable: What to make of Dennis Gates’ roster rebuild?

In his first few months at Mizzou, Dennis Gates has almost entirely upended the roster. How does that translate to next season?

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Chris Kwiecinski/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to Rock M Roundtable aka Editorial Bored aka Pregamin’ (But in the Summer), a weekly Q&A where we’ll consult the editorial board on all the big questions facing Mizzou Athletics this summer.

In the two months since Dennis Gates was hired to be the new face of Mizzou Hoops, we’ve rarely been short of news. Between exiting stalwarts and new additions to the staff and roster, Gates has upended the program personnel and given us all an entirely new vision of what constitutes Mizzou Men’s Basketball.

Over the past few weeks, however, things have calmed down. Rumors haven’t panned out. Transfers have made the surprising decision to stick with their original schools. Corporate NIL concerns are casting a bit of a chill on the market. And it’s translated to a slow news cycle for Gates and his crew. We’re here to help pick up some of the slack.

As we do every summer, we’ll host a weekly roundtable regarding everything Mizzou Athletics. This year, we’re starting off by asking the big picture questions regarding Gates’ rebuild project. Thanks to Matt Harris, Matt Watkins and Parker Gillam for helping us survey the landscape.

We’ve noted this in previous posts, but Gates has stacked the roster with players who only have one year of eligibility. How should fans read into this?

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Chris Kwiecinski/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Matthew Harris, Basketball Editor: Given the sheer scale of turnover, it’s hard not to be shortsighted in my outlook. Just learning the inbound players and Gates’ tendencies is a hefty lift, so I’ll avoid casting a glance to the horizon.

When I look over this roster, I see a group that rapidly aged and still left some flexibility in play. Three players exhaust their eligibility this season, and four more have the option to use their COVID year or move along. Matt Watkins will expand on this point, but so much of our assessment hinges on how this collection of players fits together.

As for its actual composition? I like what Gates has done. It’s a roster filled with guys adept at cutting, finishing at the rim, and running in transition. There’s enough depth to where you can roll bodies through to switch defensively or operate an extended matchup zone — looks that create deflections and runouts. Shooting? There’s not a lot of it. But that’s accounted for in the blueprint.

Now, not every need is accounted for and a couple of spots remain unfilled, but the on-court product may be better simply because the pieces fit each other and Gates’ stylistic vision.

Matt Watkins, Guest Speaker: I think a lot of the roster-building strategy this season depends on the COVID-year eligibility situation. There’s no question that his issue is causing roster confusion across the sport, but Mizzou stands to be really affected by this. Only three players — DeAndre Gholston, Tre Gomillion and D’Moi Hodge — will assuredly exhaust their eligibility after the 2022-2023 campaign. Four more — Noah Carter, Kobe Brown, Nick Honor and Sean East — will be playing their fourth collegiate year next season. Honor will actually be using his 5th year next season as he redshirted in 2020. Will the turnover be three? Will it be seven? Somewhere in between? Does anyone else leave?

This is an important question because if it’s a smaller number, you can theoretically look to supplement the roster next season with a transfer or two in addition to freshmen. If it’s a larger number? You may be looking at the program’s third consecutive major turnover. It’s hard to build consistency when you see over 50% of your roster leaving each season.

That’s not to say it’s bad, necessarily, to have a large number of spots open next year. The transfer portal makes it easier than ever to fill a multiple holes. However, if you’re looking for freshmen, you’re most likely a cycle away from having a legitimate shot at landing upper-level talent. This can be seen with the high number of offers going out in 2024 and 2025 classes, and less in 2023.

Summation: We’ll need to see who stays and who goes next off-season to truly evaluate the current roster building strategy.

Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: Honestly, I like the strategy Gates has gone with. Yes, it will lead to a lot of turnover after this season, but I get the feeling that Gates really knows how to win with the guys he has coming in, especially with so many from his former conference. I think he wants to speed things up on the offensive side of things (which every fan should be happy about from a pure entertainment perspective) while keeping the same gritty defensive mindset Cuonzo Martin’s teams had.

The key for Gates will be recruiting and developing behind these guys. After a lot of these one-and-dones (kinda?) move on, the hope would be that the younger guys waiting in the wings will be ready for big minutes. That’s what I assume Gates is going for, and while it may be risky, he has a concrete plan and he’s sticking to it.

Any time a new coach is hired, there’s a lot of talk about setting the “culture.” Which new additions will be essential to this task?

NCAA Basketball: Cleveland State at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Harris: D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion are the clear selections, right?

Hodge, a JUCO All-American with high-major suitors, opted for Cleveland State and an off-ball role, one where he maxed out every touch last season. That takes buy-in and a clear conception of your role. On top of that, Hodge took the baton as the Horizon League’s best defender from Gomillion, often causing havoc playing off the ball as rotational rim protector and pirate in passing lanes.

As for Gomillion, watch for little moments in games. A teammate might fire an errant pass in transition, and the combo guard sprints over for an affirmative word. Maybe a defender just misses a steal in the gap and puts a help defender in a bind; there’s Gomillion helping the helper — and still praising the first player for the gamble.

A couple of coaches have told me Gates puts a premium on players whose confidence is durable. It has to be, because the style of play is going to result in some mistakes. CSU’s going to give up backdoor cuts, it’s going to commit turnovers if a passer misreads a cutter, and without a true lead guard, mistakes in transition weren’t uncommon. Veterans like Hodge and Gomillion provided reassurance.

Matt Watkins: Tre Gomillion is the easy answer. Coach Gates has often spoke about his own recruitment and interest in being a team captain as a freshman. Having a leader(s) on the court is imperative. Gomillion filled that role during Gates’ rebuild at Cleveland State. He was top three in minutes played for each of the three Vikings teams Gates helmed. It takes about 30 seconds of watching film to see he’s their glue man. I would expect D’Moi Hodge to be encouraged to step into those shoes as well. Those two are well-acquainted with what Gates wants to do and how he’s done it. That’s big in a situation with 8+ newcomers.

Having lost Javon Pickett, Mizzou lost a player that had been through the...stuff. It’s a role that needs to be filled. I expect in addition to the two listed above, Kobe Brown will be encouraged to add leadership. Having been on an NCAA tournament team, then a team that won 12 games and saw the coach let go, to now a brand new team and staff, Kobe is the only man who has seen all of it. That has value.

Parker Gillam: It is hard to go against the guys who already know the culture Gates wants to build, so I won’t. In terms of who out of the two it will be, I think Gomillion is the easy answer. Matt mentioned his leadership, which is a huge part of this, especially on a team that just went through so much turnover.

However, I’d also like to add that his toughness and awareness on the court being aspects that will play a large role. Gates will likely use him as the example of the players he’ll be giving big minutes to, and others will follow suit.

While there’s a lot of excitement around this new collection of talent, there’s no such thing as a perfect roster. What holes does Gates still have to fill — now and in the future?

NCAA Basketball: Western Kentucky at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Harris: I had a long response on why Jamarion Sharp was important. That went in the dustbin on Monday morning. Now, there are two glaring voids. You know what they are, too: rim protection and an additional perimeter threat.

Let’s start inside. The top three rim protectors on the market — Sharp, Efe Agobidi, and Osun Ossuniyi — aren’t in play. Poking through the list of remaining options, a veteran like Qudus Wahab, who has three seasons combined at Georgetown and Maryland, stands out. No, Wahab’s not the same level of shot blocker. He’s not as fluid or smooth laterally. And he had a bumpy junior campaign in College Park. But Wahab could provide 20 minutes a night of sound positional defense, rebounding, and high-efficiency paint touches. That’s the kind of prospect I’d look for now.

As for a perimeter threat, we’ll have to wait and see. Adam Miller faded from view a couple of weeks ago. (And it’s unclear how serious an option he actually was.) Meanwhile, Elijah Fisher, a top-15 prospect in the 2023 class, has been linked with MU, but most recruiting outlets have given an edge to Texas Tech or a professional option. Top transfers with regional ties — Isiaih Mosley and Malachi Smith — are far enough along in their respective processes that MU probably can’t insert itself into the mix.

I am curious, though, whether Gates and assistant coach Kyle Smithpeters turn to the JUCO ranks to try and plug remaining gaps.

No matter the source of talent, adding a bigger body should be the clear priority. Gates showed at CSU that his offense generates production without a primary scorer or traditional lead guard. There’s enough ingredients in the cupboard to do it again. Assuming the staff adds a post player, I wouldn’t be against pocketing the last scholarship.

Matt Watkins: Mizzou has two available scholarships for the 2022-2023 season. Assuming Mizzou will be implementing a style of play similar to what Coach Gates implemented at Cleveland State, the two biggest near-term “needs” in my view are rim protection and playmaking ability on the perimeter. I had the benefit of seeing the others’ responses prior to drafting mine, so I won’t rehash the rim protection bit, though I do agree it’s very important.

Coach Gates was interviewed some time back and said his offensive theory for each possession was: 1. Hunt shots quick in transition and early offense; 2. Run sets to get quality looks; 3. Get the ball in your playmaker’s hands late in the clock. Having run through the data on what’s coming in and returning, I think there are a lot of “fits” for points 1 and 2. Lot of proven players in terms of scoring in transition, post-ups, cuts and even in limited ball screen actions. The weaknesses, at least on paper, are consistent perimeter shooting and isolation opportunities. The question then is, if opponents focus on getting back on transition defense and gum up the paint and cutting lanes, will Mizzou have the tools to loosen that up? Defensively, assuming the rim-protection void is filled, they should be relatively well equipped.

Parker Gillam: I mean, it’s the two things that have plagued Mizzou for the past couple of years. Gates needs to get a quality big that can rim protect and be a threat on the offensive end, while also finding a true point guard to lead this team.

With Anton Brookshire gone, there isn’t anybody to groom as the next one to run point. That task will likely be left up to Clemson transfer Nick Honor, but it puts a lot on his shoulders. In the future, Gates needs to recruit that position hard, because if I have learned anything from years of watching CBB, it’s that teams don’t get very far without a natural point guard, and only the teams with great ones have a shot to win it all.

For the big, it is looking like it will be a work in progress again. Noah Carter comes in to provide some quality size down there, but he at 6’6”, he lacks the height to compete with some of the SEC’s post players. Another year of putting a more natural 3 or 4 at the center spot.

Let’s get personal: Who’s been your “favorite” announced newcomer so far?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament- Northern Iowa Panthers vs Loyola Ramblers Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Harris: Noah Carter. Ignore the physical dimensions. Set aside concerns about how he guards SEC bigs. The Northern Iowa transfer epitomizes a combo forward. How? He’s a connector on offense, by which I mean he keeps a possession popping. He makes reads at the elbow, runs handoffs, and can ping passes to cutters in short rolls. As a scorer, he gets to mismatches easily, dribbling into post-ups against guards, driving on bigs in closeouts, and is his best-self as a shooter in roll-and-replace actions.

To me, Carter’s a prime example of why film matters. His assist rate is modest. So are his rebounding numbers. And you might think he’s a liability defensively. Then you cue up tape, and that context clarifies a lot of what makes him enticing. He tallies up a ton of hockey assists. His base is sturdy enough to hold ground and force more athletic posts to operate farther from the paint — and create time for help to rotate.

MU’s recruited a pair of point guards that also excel at moving the ball within an offense that relies heavily on playing at the high post and off-ball cutting. In that setting, Carter’s almost like a third creator, but one with a high enough IQ to exploit a mismatch. Having a wing like Aidan Shaw around to block shots from the help side, but it would be handy to have a more traditional post player to backstop Carter.

Matt Watkins: For starters, I like all of the new additions for different reasons, but was told that is not an acceptable answer. (editor’s note: tough crowd)

Limiting this to the seven current newcomers, my pick is Nick Honor. Why? 1. He’s adept at operating on the ball; 2. He’s experienced, entering his fourth season; and 3. He has high major experience. There are a lot less assumptions to be made when projecting performance versus those jumping up a level to SEC play. We can look at what he’s done at Clemson and get a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. And that’s a moderate usage ball handler, who shoots 34% from three point range and 83% from the line, who doesn’t turn the ball over, makes the right reads and is adept at creating turnovers.

While I think Dru Smith became far more appreciated when he left with Mizzou’s deficits a year ago at that spot, he’s still not appreciated enough. Add him to last year’s team and there’s a solid argument to be made that they’re a 17-18 win team. A big time difference, obviously.

I do not anticipate Nick Honor turning in a 2021 Dru Smith campaign, but I do expect that he brings many of those same attributes. Things that are invaluable on any team, especially one turning over 75%+ of it’s roster.

That said, I believe the player that benefits most from the offseason roster reconstruction was already on the team.

Parker Gillam: Noah Carter jumps off the page early to me because I am just personally a big fan of the Northern Iowa program, but give me DeAndre Gholston from Milwaukee. He was productive in both of his seasons with the Panthers, averaging over 14 a game each year. Like Boogie Coleman, Gholston comes in as a proven scorer. Unlike Coleman (fingers crossed), he will not have to run the point during games. If Gates can find a way to keep him off-ball in his natural spot, then I think Gholston will excel. Mizzou has not had a prolific scorer in years, and I think Gholston can fit that role if he is playing within his game.

Got a question for our staff regarding Mizzou Sports? Let us know in the comments and we’ll look at adding it to an upcoming roundtable!