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Making sense of Mizzou coming up short with Kadin Shedrick

There were plentiful minutes and an expansive role available in Columbia. But in the end, the Longhorns made a similarly compelling case. 

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Virginia vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly before committing to Texas on Sunday, Virginia transfer Kadin Shedrick framed how we should have viewed his ultimate decision.

“I wanted to get myself into a new system where I could show everything I thought I could do,” Shedrick told Jeff Goodman during The Field of 68’s streaming session.

Is that place Austin?

I can’t say. In a year or so, we’ll know whether Shedrick picking the Longhorns over Missouri panned out. But in the near term, it’s a wincing blow. Since the transfer portal opened, MU’s been in touch with almost all upper-echelon big men seeking a new home. But in prioritizing Shedrick, it courted a prospect whose process wound up on a longer timeline than most of his peers.

Last week, though, patience looked like the right call. Coach Dennis Gates and his staff hosted what turned out to be Shedrick’s last official visit, which played out in parallel to a trip for Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland. Perhaps that fact leaves the bruise a deeper shade of purple.

But surprising? Not really.

Throughout Shedrick’s recruitment, the affirmative case for Missouri boiled down to two facets: minutes and pace. On paper, MU had plenty of the former once Mohamed Diarra and Ronnie DeGray III hopped into the portal. And regarding the latter, Gates’ squad ranked 15th among high-major programs in adjusted tempo – and one spot behind UT.

Now, Texas played at a similarly perky clip. But the Longhorns’ frontcourt rotation appeared a tad murky. Dylan Disu was deciding whether to use a COVID exemption for a fifth season and five-star prospect Ron Holland hits campus this summer. If Rodney Terry was inclined, he could deploy Holland at the four and Disu in the post for a hyper-athletic pairing.

Once Shedrick finished his reveal, though, it didn’t sound like minutes and roles were much of an issue. He told Goodman that he broached the subject with Terry and directly with Disu, adding that he was excited to “play alongside” a fifth-year senior who “has shown the ability to stretch the floor.” Reading between the lines isn’t hard. Shedrick is the five. Disu is the four, and Holland presumably will slot in as a jumbo wing.

Voila.

Minutes were now equally abundant on the Forty Acres.

This brings us back to Shedrick’s opening statement. Sure, he was frustrated that his role was slashed without explanation. But more than that, he coveted a more expansive role than his one at Virginia.

“There’s more to my game than I’ve been able to show,” he told Goodman. “I’m a better shooter than I’ve been able to show. I’m a better decision-maker than I’ve been able to show.”

When you call up film, it’s not hard to see why the partnership had grown stale. For as long as Tony Bennett’s coached, the blocker-mover offense, an inheritance from his dad, has been a staple. But it’s also a system with tight constraints and precise job descriptions. Spend any time watching the Hoos, and it’s not hard to see the role big men play: setting screens — lots of them.

Essentially, Shedrick set two types of screens. First, he could set a pin-down on the weak-side block, allowing guards to curl back toward the rim, sprint into the catch on the wing, or fade to the corner. It also set up a two-man game on an empty side of the floor.

When that happened, Shedrick rolled and looked to mash down lobs or make tough catches on pocket passes. But savvy teams, especially those in the ACC, resorted to drop coverage. So, even if the pass reached Shedrick’s mitts, another big confronted him at the rim.

Next, Shedrick could set a similar down screen on the opposite side of the floor around the slot. Once a guard sprinted over it and makes the catch, that same two-man game unfolded out on an empty side. That made Shedrick a roller — again.

Now, if Bennett was feeling a tad risky, he dialed up a double-ball screen — also called 77 action — as the ball reverses to the second side of the floor. Shedrick was first screener, while a guard was the second. Once their jobs were done, they become planes breaking formation. The guard popped out while Shedick veered toward their rim. Again, it’s an empty corner with no help defender to tag him.

Shedrick hung out in the short corner when he wasn’t setting screens galore and bided his time. Occasionally, a twisting and meandering drive by Kihei Clark or a straight-line rim attack in the middle of the floor might produce a dump-off to him.

Or if Shedrick was heady, he’d slip to the rim after setting a down screen. If a defense helped down, he could dart into a void on an angle cut. And the same principle held on middle drives, where a distracted defense might not see him dive-bombing the rim.

Finally, here is video proof that Shedrick, indeed, did post up and play on the block for the Cavs. Still, those touches often required him to set a screen before trying to bury a defender on the block or duck into the lane for an entry pass. Do you know how often I saw a post-up used as a primary action? None.

You can see how that role might have chafed against Shedrick’s aspirations — and that was before Bennett basically shelved him for six weeks.

Even if the post-up has gone out of fashion, Shedrick’s 14 possessions still count as minuscule. (He had just two after the calendar turned to 2023.) For all his labor as a screener, he only called for pick-and-pop opportunities. As for traditional spot-ups, he finished with 15 touches, per Synergy Sports data. And he didn’t run a single handoff or pick-and-roll.

Shedrick helped manufacture opportunities for everyone else but only received six touches per game. And of those half-dozen chances, only one might empower him to create offense. “I just wanted the opportunity to be able to do those things,” he told Goodman. “I also wanted a place where I won’t be on such a short leash. I wanted to be able to play more freely.”

To anyone paying attention, it was apparent how cleanly Shedrick fit the bill in MU’s defensive structure. Ranking in the 97th percentile nationally as a rim finisher was another potential boon. Describing Shedrick as a versatile big who could act as a lower-usage play finisher became our shorthand.

But put yourself in Shedrick’s shoes. That sounds awfully familiar. It hardly matters if you’re playing faster when you’re still typecast.

Shedrick would not have necessarily faced that issue in Columbia. Structurally, MU’s offense doesn’t resemble what Shedrick executed at UVA. Chunks of MU’s offense rely on bigs as connective elements at the top of the key and elbows. They run handoffs. They can attack from the pinch post against a mismatch. In ball screens, they’re just as likely to pop out beyond the arc as they are to roll to the rim. And in five-out situations, they might be asked to space out and hold the sideline.

Only the staff knows its specific pitch to Shedrick. Still, from what we’ve seen in Gates’ first year, it’s reasonable to assume it could have accommodated the big man’s desires. Consider that Noah Carter, who spent long stretches at the five, averaged almost nine possessions per game. Had Shedrick’s efficiency held up, you could have projected his scoring average to settle around 12 points per game.

It’s worth wondering whether that volume of touches would be available. The Tigers packed their roster to the rafters with guards, could return Isiaih Mosley, and are in hot pursuit of Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland. That’s a lot of hands demanding the ball from a coach who has stated his desire to be among the nation’s leaders in 3-point shooting.

Texas doesn’t have similar demand. Four of its top six scorers exhausted their eligibility. Guard Arterio Morris entered the transfer portal, and Dillon Mitchell declared for the NBA Draft. Mitchell, a former five-star prospect, and Tyrese Hunter could return to school, but there’s not a strain on the supply of shots.

I don’t think Shedrick was all that granular in his thinking. He was clear this was a decision he made with his gut. But even if you wade deep into the weeds, it’s hard to say it was puzzling. Gates and Terry had minutes, touches, and tempo to sell. Terry, who spent a decade on Rick Barnes’ staff, can lay claim to helping develop quality bigs in Austin. Gates and Charlton Young have a similar track record on their CV from time on Leonard Hamilton’s staff at Florida State.

There were two compelling pitches put in front of Shedrick. Portal courtships are swift. And instinct, as much as reason, wins the day. Simply because the decision didn’t break MU’s way isn’t a reason to critique the process on the player’s or MU’s side.

Moving forward, MU still has some time until the portal closes on May 11. However, the market has thinned out. Oklahoma State’s Moussa Cisse and Western Kentucky’s Jamarion Sharp are still available, but after those two, the supply of talent skews toward younger players — Zach Clemence, Efton Reid, and Kebba Njie — looking to reboot their careers at a new stop.

The simplest solution might also be the best one: focus on Sharp. There’s a pre-existing relationship with assistant coach Kyle Smithpeters, and familiarity with MU’s program from last spring. What’s unknown is how long Sharp intends to remain in the NBA draft pool.

Such is the nature of portal season. We’ll see how nimble MU can be in the coming weeks.