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What we all want to see from Missouri basketball in 2023

Happy New Year, everyone!

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

If there is any post that I’ve been consistent about as an annual post it might be this one.

I really like this process because, as we’ve experienced over the years, one individual season doesn’t equate to overall program success. The last time it felt like Mizzou’s Basketball program was good year to year was under Mike Anderson. Frank Haith had talent on the roster and won big in year one, but the foundation eroded a bit.

Cuonzo Martin was tasked with rebuilding that foundation and things looked consistent enough to be pleased, until he blew it up in the last year and... well, you all remember how that went.

But program success is what we want. And that’s what this post is about. Year to year consistency and building a perennial program. The type of team where you can expect, at worst, a top half of the league finish.

How many years in a row have we been doing this now? Let’s go to the count...

I wouldn’t really recommend clicking on those links, it’s an exercise in reliving sad events. But if you’re like me and appreciate the history of things, and how we got here, then go ahead and click away!

So how did our expectations/hopes turn out for 2022 in comparison to reality? Let’s revisit:

  • Recover from the ugly start: Entering 2022, Mizzou was 6-7 and sitting in the 160s in KenPom. There was a bit of a recovery, they found a few things that worked, and went 4-7 in the first 11 SEC games. It wasn’t great but they were competitive, after not being competitive against Kansas and Illinois. So this was like a half check mark. They were better, but not by enough.
  • Find a new direction: This is a full check. I didn’t call for anyone’s job at this point last year, but I did say that whoever the coach was needed a new blue print. Either Martin or a new coach needed to not only change the approach for the Tigers program, but the Administration needed to change things up as well. They needed to invest in the program in ways they had not before. They did it.
  • Have a momentum changing spring: The momentum changed completely with a new coach, but also with a deep investment in the support staff of the program. Dennis Gates was hired and Mizzou spent to bring in his friend and former colleague Charlton “CY” Young from Florida State to bolster recruiting. They also added multiple new positions for scouting and analytics, and even though Gates was making less than Martin was, the budget went up significantly. From there Gates rebuilt the roster, and while he didn’t completely blow things up, so far the plan has worked well.
  • Establish the ‘23 class as a continuation on the theme: You should be excited about the 2023 class, because I am. There’s still work to be done but Gates has already landed three really good prospects in the class and has a spring to finish off what’s needed.
  • Apply the new approach, and look like it’s working: 12-1 with back to back top 25 wins with a roster of misfits, I’d say it at least looks like it’s working. Gates has shown he and his staff can apply well thought out scouting reports. He’s shown he can recruit and land good talent and put out a fun and exciting brand of basketball. It’s been nearly 10 months and it certainly looks like the Dennis Gates hire has been a good one.

So where will things go in 2023? Here’s the wish list...

Ride the momentum you’ve built and return to the NCAA Tournament

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Starting out 1-0 in the conference with a home win over Kentucky sets the Tigers up well. The next two games have a win probability for the favorite of around 75%, if the probabilities hold Mizzou will go 1-1. But the next 6 games have a win probability under 60%, meaning they’re expected to be 1 possession games. Those are all winnable games. They’re also all losable games.

I don’t think anyone thinks Mizzou is going to go undefeated the rest of the way. It would be fun, but it’s not realistic The goal from here on out is to win more than you lose and if they can string together a few wins from these toss up games, it helps set up the rest of the schedule when things get a bit easier. If they can go even around .500 in those 6 games that sets them up nicely to land at around 10-8 or 11-7. That’s getting in the neighborhood of the NCAA Tournament.

Before the season started I wouldn’t have set making the NCAA Tournament as a goal. Now you’d have to imagine it’s possible after the last two games. Making noise once you’re there would be great, but this being year one and getting to the Tournament would be like playing with house money. Anything that happens once they’re there is just fine with me.

Ride the momentum into a productive offseason

Roster construction is a year to year thing at this point. The one time free transfer and the portal have changed how coaches are building rosters, and some are showing they’re better and more adept to the change.

So I would expect some unexpected roster turnover, but if you exceed expectations in the season while playing a fun style of basketball in front of packed houses... well that’s a lot easier to recruit to. Starting from where the roster is right now, let’s take stock:

mizzou basketball scholarship count 10-5-2022

Keep in mind the COVID year keeps things a little out of sorts. DeAndre Gholston, Tre Gomillion, and D’Moi Hodge are using their COVID years this season so they cannot return. Kobe Brown, Nick Honor, and Isiaih Mosley have decisions to make. So while there are nine scholarship players currently on the roster for next season, there are three others who can come back which means that Mizzou could only have one scholarship available.

There’s also some weird scholarship math happening if a COVID player takes the extra year. If they take that year with the same team, that scholarship does not count against your usual 13. So it’s possible if Kobe Brown returns he doesn’t count against the limit.

Since roster turnover is expected this day in age and because I’m addicted to this stilly count, here is what each of the previous staffs have dealt with over the years:

  • 2022 (Gates): 9 newcomers
  • 2021 (Martin): 9 newcomers
  • 2020 (Martin): 5 newcomers
  • 2019 (Martin): 3 newcomers
  • 2018 (Martin): 6 newcomers
  • 2017 (Martin): 6 newcomers
  • 2016 (Anderson): 7 newcomers
  • 2015 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
  • 2014 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
  • 2013 (Haith): 8 newcomers
  • 2012 (Haith): 8 newcomers

You can have success with high turnover, it’s about putting together the right mix. However having good players and keeping those good players is still the best way to keep your program strong.

Gates and his team are probably going to need to fill in spots from those who are departing. If Nick Honor and Sean East are both back, with Anthony Robinson coming in you probably don’t need a point guard. But the combo guard spot is looking a bit thin with both D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion on their way out, and scoring wing is needed if Isiaih Mosley isn’t coming back, since Gholston is done as well. And with just Jordan Butler and Mohamed Diarra on the roster some interior size might be needed.

Establish the ‘24 class as a continuation on the theme

The 2023 class is a good one, but there may not be any real instant impact level freshmen. Dennis Gates and his staff are swimming in some deeper waters for the 2024 class. They’ve already had 3rd ranked Naas Cunningham on campus, along with 23rd ranked John Bol. They hosted James Brown (27), Annor Boateng (32), Marcus Allen (40), and Dallas Thomas (49). And that’s just in the top 50.

We’ve seen Dennis Gates make an impression with a host of transfers from the Horizon League, the MVC, JUCO transfers and just one player who played at a high major last year in Nick Honor. What might happen if he’s able to carry over that style of play but increase the talent level to where he’s recruiting and developing NBA level talent. Is it possible he lifts the ceiling off the Tigers program?

I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Uhhhh, keep it up

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons this year’s post was more difficult to write than in years past is because for the longest time we’ve had Mizzou coaches trying to build something. But really for the first time it kind of feels like the coach is succeeding in building something.

Frank Haith had some success but never felt like he was safe and bolted. Mike Anderson had the most success overall since Norm Stewart, but struggled to garner investment from the school and ultimately took the job at Arkansas. Kim Anderson was a disastrous hire, and Cuonzo Martin was good but never great. He also fell hard his last year. Just twice in the last 20 years has Mizzou Basketball been ranked at the end of the season.

But Dennis Gates has, at least so far, cleaned up the mess. For decades Mizzou Basketball has suffered from mediocrity and a lack of investment. And while this season is far from over and a lot can change, it feels different that hot starts of the last 20 years. In 2009, Mike Anderson’s best team started 13-2, finished 31-7 and made the Elite 8. That was also his 3rd season. The next year they started 14-3 before finished 23-11. The 2011 team started 14-1 and finished 23-11 again. In 2012, Mizzou started 14-0 before catching their first loss. You know how that went.

My point here is Mizzou has been down the road of a hot start before. The results afterward have been mixed. From both a season standpoint, and a program one. The task here for Gates is to not just build, but also maintain. Can you do it, again and again? Can you improve the corners and the margins, and do it year after year?

12-1 is a terrific start. The Tigers’ style of play is fun, but winning is the most fun. No matter how the rest of the season goes, Dennis Gates’ biggest task begins again, and that’s to continue to get better.