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A beat writer’s Missouri basketball season preview (Pt. 2)

Year two of the Dennis Gates era is nearly upon us...

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Semifinals - Alabama vs Missouri Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The preview rolls on as I examine the statistics to keep an eye on, deal out some superlatives and lay down a prediction for the 2023-2024 season...

(And if you missed part one, click here)

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

Numbers To Key In On

Three-Point Percentage

Man oh man, did the Tigers torch the nets last season or what?

Shooting 36% as a team from behind the arc is a solid number, but put that up against 904 total attempts and you get a team that shot at a high volume AND a high clip.

“We want to be able to lead the country in three-point attempts and be the best three-point shooting team in the country. Last year we fell short,” Gates said after Mizzou Madness. Despite the team’s gaudy numbers, the head coach is still not satisfied.

Gone are D’Moi Hodge, Kobe Brown and DeAndre Gholston, who contributed a good bulk of that shooting number, but the potential is still there for this team to be effective from behind the arc. Caleb Grill is expected to step in and become the next sniper under Dennis Gates, but John Tonje, Jesus Carralero Martin, Tamar Bates and even Connor Vanover are all also capable of knocking down some shots from the perimeter. And, of course, Noah Carter and Nick Honor will continue to let it fly from deep.

Case in point: This Tiger team should not struggle to shoot from behind the arc. The issue is that when this team was cold last year, they had virtually no shot at winning a game. Just look at the early season road losses to Texas A&M and Florida as prime examples in which the team shot 23% and 17% respectively from behind the arc.

If the Tigers can hover around that 36% mark yet again, they should be just fine. Anything drastically lower, and this team will struggle.

Here’s a drill that Gates utilizes to encourage extra passing for better perimeter looks:

Assist-To-Turnover Ratio

Another stat that Gates loves to talk about is assist-to-turnover ratio, and I am certainly in agreement with him in that it is one of the most important statistics in the game of basketball.

Last season, this team recorded a 1.43 assist-to-turnover ratio, a number that ranked in the top 20 in the country. With Honor returning to run the show after posting a gaudy 3.12 ratio, Mizzou should be in good hands. If East can cut down on turnovers (53 last year), then the Tigers will have two reliable point guards at their disposal. Or, perhaps freshman Anthony Robinson II or JUCO-transfer Curt Lewis can step up as primary ball-handlers as well.

Of course, the makeup of the Dennis Gates offense promotes a high assist-to-turnover ratio regardless, so this number should not be an issue. However, if it is, then this team as a whole will struggle, because there are currently no individuals like Brown that can take over a game and offset frequent turnovers.

Here’s an example of the kind of drills that Gates runs to emphasize this statistic:

Number Of Players Averaging 10+ Minutes

Last season, 10 players averaged 10 or more minutes per game for Mizzou, a generally high number across D-I basketball. Of course, many factors play into those numbers, but Gates has openly said that he wants to field teams that can go 8-10 deep with little worry of drop-off.

Right now, I can point at nine players that will likely play at least 10 minutes per game. If someone like Robinson II, Lewis, or freshman forwards Jordan Butler and Trent Pierce can quickly mesh with their new team, then one of them could be the 10th. Regardless, this will be yet another deep squad that throws plenty of bodies at opposing teams in an effort to keep the tempo high throughout games. Monitoring the way the minutes are divvied up, and how the rotation changes throughout the season, will be intriguing.

Rebounding Margin

As an undersized team, rebounding was a major point of struggle for the Tigers last season. At times, they could make up for that with hot shooting and forcing turnovers. Other times, they could not.

Overall, Mizzou recorded 252 less rebounds than its opponents did last season. That number cost the team some games, and it was an uphill battle on the glass all season long. The hope is that with the monstrous Vanover and an effective rebounder in Tonje entering the mix, the Tigers should compete better on the glass. If Shaw can also become a force that reels in 5-7 boards per game and Mabor Majak/Butler/Pierce can contribute, then Mizzou should experience marked improvement.

Steals Per Game

Hodge was the star of the show in this regard last season, as he averaged 2.6 steals per game and was one of the better perimeter defenders in the nation. As a team, the Tigers averaged 10.2 steals per game, good for second in the nation.

Stealing possessions proved to be a key for a Missouri team that wanted to put up as many shots as possible during the course of a game, and it will continue to be a key this year. Grill and Tonje already enter the mix as strong defenders, and they should join Honor and East in picking people’s pockets this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Princeton vs Missouri Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Season Prediction

There is a bit of deja vu for this Missouri team in 2023-24.

Yet again is there a solid core of returners being joined by a handful of wild card transfers and freshmen that come from all over the country. Thus, there is plenty of potential within this group...and plenty of question marks.

The schedule is perhaps the main difference between this year and last. The non-conference slate presents plenty of tests—especially early on—which will not allow this group to mesh over the early months like last season’s team did. Being thrown into the fire generally yields varied results, so expect the first month of basketball to be a mixed bag from Mizzou.

Regardless, this is another roster that is certainly capable of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. Replacing the production of Brown and Hodge will be nearly impossible, but a by-committee effort could make up for the losses. With Honor returning at point guard and Carter manning the wings and interior, Tiger fans have two proven commodities to rely upon.

The key will be in how quickly the rest of the team can develop chemistry. If we learned anything from last season, it’s that Gates’ offensive system requires a team that moves the ball effectively and makes sharp, well-timed cuts. That only comes with repetition and understanding of teammates’ tendencies.

The SEC will be as difficult as ever, and the fight for a tournament berth will likely come down to the final weeks of the season yet again. Still, this roster is too experienced and too versatile to finish in the bottom half of the conference, and if even 2-3 of the transfers live up to their level of play at previous stops, then this team should experience plenty of success.

It is sure to be another wild ride full of close games, highlight-reel plays and amazing atmospheres at Mizzou Arena. Buckle up, Tiger fans. Year Two of the Dennis Gates era is almost here.

Final Record Prediction: 22-9 (11-7), No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Round Two Exit

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports


Offensive Player of the Year: Noah Carter

Defensive Player of the Year: John Tonje

Newcomer of the Year: Caleb Grill

Game of the Year: Tennessee @ Missouri, Feb. 20

Team MVP: Nick Honor

Drop your predictions for the 2023-24 season in the comments below!