Mohamed Diarra. No, don’t call him “Mo,” as Dennis Gates has explained on multiple occasions that he likes to go by Mohamed.
There’s a chance that Missouri fans did not know his name at all until January. After all, he appeared in only five games in November and December after being one of the most highly-sought after JUCO products in the country last offseason.
With the Tigers struggling on the glass and Diarra showing signs of being a dominant force in practices, Gates opted to plug Diarra into the rotation in mid-January. While there were certainly ups and downs, Diarra showed that he has plenty of potential and can be a quality big down the line.
Of course, that will have to happen on another team. Diarra announced that he would be entering the transfer portal on March 28.
Let’s take a look at what Mr. Diarra accomplished in 2022-23, as well as what the future may hold for him.
Mohamed Diarra | By The Numbers
Diarra was always a player that would be going through a learning curve this season. His raw potential was easy to see coming from Garden City C.C., but he was not polished enough to come in and be an immediate contributor on this roster. That, and taking ESL classes kept him off the court early on, as we learned during the NCAA Tournament.
Still, there were certainly positives to his play. After being gradually inserted into the rotation in mid-January, Diarra became a fairly efficient player with the minutes he was given. He scored 11 points in 17 minutes against Ole Miss on Jan. 24, which would end up being his season-high.
Diarra played double-digit minutes in every February game, and he scored at least five points in every one of those games except for one (Auburn).
The Paris native made only four 3-pointers all season, but he was not afraid to let it fly from time to time, finishing the year 4-for-16 from behind the arc. Frankly, his shot looks smooth and could one day be a game-changer for Diarra on the offensive end if he continues to work at it.
In the painted area, Diarra struggled to keep up with the speed and physicality of other SEC big men, but he showed flashes of some post-up ability. The next step will be being able to finish through contact and working on his free throw shooting. He shot 55.9% from the charity stripe this season.
Diarra found the most success on dump-offs and lobs, but he certainly showed that he has plenty of potential on the offensive end. Still, he’ll need to continue to work on his perimeter shot while becoming more confident in operating down low. If he can do that, Diarra could turn into the same wrecking force he displayed in community college.
Mohamed Diarra is making strides: exceptional impact on the glass in the last couple of games to go along with his switchability, hustle and some scoring inside and out. Great boost of energy off the bench for Mizzou. A skilled player just scratching the surface. @Rvtpi2 pic.twitter.com/3jFIEtOPpZ— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) January 25, 2023
Diarra was inserted into the rotation at a time in which Mizzou was being dominated on the glass and in the painted area. While those themes largely continued, Diarra did make an immediate impact on the defensive end.
With his 6-foot-10 frame and monstrous wingspan, Diarra was able to alter how opposing teams could attack Missouri in the paint.
And, while he appeared to be a step or two behind on offense, Diarra looked up-to-speed on the defensive end as soon as he began receiving significant minutes. He recorded a season-high 12 rebounds against Alabama on Jan. 21 and had back-to-back 10 rebound performances against MSU and LSU in early February.
Diarra immediately provided a much-needed boost on the boards for this team. If he can add some more weight this offseason and work on his shot-blocking ability, the soon-to-be senior would be the primary paint defender for a team in 2023-24.
Mohamed Diarra | On/Off Splits | 2022-23
|PPS - RIM
|PPS - Mid
|PPP - 3FGA
|PPS - RIM
|PPS - Mid
|PPP - 3FGA
There’s no other way to describe the contrast between Mo’s presence on and off the floor: brutal.
In early February, Diarra’s play looked as if it had turned the corner, and he might supply a size-deficient roster with some length and average rim protection. But as we detailed shortly after the season wrapped up, Diarra regressed in the home stretch.
Over MU’s final six games, the Tigers posted a minus-38.3 net rating with Diarra on the floor. By that point, teams had started targeting him in ball screens, pulling him off the baseline and opening up the lane. Meanwhile, MU’s defensive rebounding got worse—slipping by four percentage points—when Diarra logged minutes.
But the numbers show his presence was a bigger drag on the offensive end. Mizzou went from elite efficiency (1.22 PPP) to slightly below average (0.98 PPP) when Diarra manned the five spot. And as we’ve noted in prior reviews, using Diarra meant swapping in a play finisher for a playmaking big in Kobe Brown or a stretch option in Noah Carter. That’s fine—as a theory. In reality, Diarra posted just 0.87 PPP on shots taken around the rim, ranking in the ninth percentile nationally, per Synergy Sports tracking data.
As we’ve repeatedly noted, taking Diarra last spring meant a measure of patience. However, Diarra needed to demonstrate he could, at a minimum, hold the line defensively, keep MU competitive on the backboards, and convert high-quality shots. That simply didn’t happen.
Maybe another offseason of development would have spurred a breakout. But MU’s staff senses the chance to capitalize on momentum from a stellar debut season. And it meant the clock ran out on Mo.
Mohamed Diarra | Top-5 Lineups | 2022-23
The first lineup reinforces the assessment offered above.
Playing Diarra with four other starters, and giving Carter a break, created a 76-point swing in scoring margin, while MU’s net rating plummeted by almost 47 points per 100 possessions. When Gates sat Gholston and Carter, the difference in net rating crashed again, landing at minus-41 points per 100 possessions.
Let’s start with the defensive numbers.
On paper, Diarra grades out better than Carter at guarding rim attempts. But the problem, as we’ve mentioned, is Mo spent a lot of time away from the restricted area. MU’s switch-heavy scheme required him to guard in space, and opponents used it as leverage. They might attack him directly with guard off the bounce. Or they might have their big roll to lane and bury a smaller Tiger defender. Maybe that created an easy rim attempt. Sometimes, MU’s help rotations created kickouts, putting the shell under strain. The structure of MU’s defense didn’t allow Diarra to camp at the restricted area.
Offensively, you see cost incurred by subtracting too much playmaking or spacing. For example, in the second lineup, Gholston’s absence takes away an advantage creator and isolation threat. Meanwhile, Carter’s not around to act as a connective element who can also step out and keep driving lanes clear, whether that’s by spotting up in the corner or popping after a ball screen.
With the remaining lineups, though, at least one of those ingredients is still present.
That’s why Diarra proved vexing. Yes, he was nominally bigger, but playing him for long stretches wasn’t additive. If you need more evidence, inspect the bigs that MU is doggedly pursuing in the portal. None of them are as skilled as Diarra, but each has shown they can control the boards, anchor a defense, and convert meat-and-potato plays in the paint.
All in all, Diarra looked to be one of Gates’ earliest project players at Missouri. At his peak, Diarra could have been a scary stretch-five that held down the painted area at Mizzou.
Instead, he will be moving on to greener pastures in an effort to pursue his true potential. At the end of the day, you can’t blame him for wanting to become the best player he can be and find an environment that suits him the best.
It remains to be seen what roster Diarra lands on, but he would likely thrive in a similarly up-tempo system thanks to his athleticism and ability to run the floor well. I would imagine he ends up at a high mid-major and settles into his own given the right coaching staff.
In a best-case scenario for Diarra, he becomes a reliable scorer from behind the arc and in the post, puts on 10-15 more pounds and embraces being a physical presence on the boards this offseason. That would fix many of the lapses we saw from him this season and make him much more reliable on the defensive end.
In my eyes, Diarra can be a major X-factor for a team in 2023-24. With how nimble he is for his size, the Parisian could be a high-energy five-man that can spark a team on both ends of the floor,