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What will it look like moving into a new era of Missouri basketball?

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NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Positionless basketball is a thing, and Missouri is moving closer and closer to having as much of a positionless roster as it can. The Tigers aren’t Villanova, and frankly, it isn’t fair to expect that level of success. But since the Wildcats are the best example of positionless basketball in college, the comparisons will exist.

This past season the Tigers still had elite size and were often able to play with two bigs. But the look and style of Cuonzo Martin’s offense changed dramatically from his time at Tennessee and Cal. With last season being about taking a shot with Michael Porter Jr., the construction of the roster was as much about feeding the ball to their star forward as much as you can.

This season is going to be different. With no proven scorers and only a few knowns on the roster, Missouri is entering the real Stage 1 of a new era of Mizzou basketball. A roster chock-full of multi-positional players is rounding into shape.

First, our current scholarship count:

mizzou basketball scholarship count 4-27-18

The scholarship count tells you who is on the roster, but it doesn’t lay out the where. We’re going to start with the simplest approach to begin. With this roster, here are the guards vs. forwards (among those eligible for 2018-19):

The Basic Look

Guards Forwards
Guards Forwards
Jordan Geist Kevin Puryear
Cullen VanLeer Reed Nikko
Dru Smith K.J. Santos
Javon Pickett Mitchell Smith
Xavier Pinson Jeremiah Tilmon
Mark Smith
Torrence Watson

From here you can see the roster is a bit forward heavy. But in a less basic and strict breakdown of positions, you can move K.J. Santos back and forth between guards and forwards. He’s really a prototypical combo forward in that regard — he’s not a traditional wing due to his size and physical stature, but he’s not a guy who is going to play on the block either.

This position of “traditional wing with size” is something many programs have taken advantage of over the years. Michael Porter Jr. was that kind of player, and Miles Bridges at Michigan State is another good example. Kansas used Svi Mykhailuk in that role this past season and Josh Jackson in the season before. Jayson Tatum at Duke, Keita Bates-Diop at Ohio State, Dillon Brooks at Oregon ... there is a long list of great collegiate players who were considered undersized “fours” on the floor but were really second wing players who were probably asked to defend a post from time to time.

This might be the most important position in college basketball these days.

Guards + Other + Forwards

Guards Other Forwards
Guards Other Forwards
Jordan Geist K.J. Santos Kevin Puryear
Cullen VanLeer Reed Nikko
Dru Smith Mitchell Smith
Javon Pickett Jeremiah Tilmon
Xavier Pinson
Mark Smith
Torrence Watson

Going a step further with the forwards, there are post players who you might trust to handle the ball a bit more and stretch the floor out to the 3-point line. K.J. Santos is obviously one of these players, but Mitchell Smith and Kevin Puryear are as well. Neither Puryear nor Smith are guys you trust to defend on the wing — if at all possible, you want to avoid this scenario. They are more than capable of defending on the interior, though, and out to 15-20 feet against another post player.

Puryear doesn’t exude the kind of athleticism and explosion you’d want from the “other” spot that Santos possesses. And Smith has great length and size but also isn’t quite adept with his ball skills to be trusted on the wing a whole lot. Instead, they’re each more of a modern big who might be offensively limited in skill but are capable of stretching the defense with their jump shot.

Jeremiah Tilmon and Reed Nikko, you want by the basket. Timon has been working this offseason to develop his stretch game, but he’s still probably not going to be the jump shooter Smith or Puryear is.

Guards, Stretch’s & Posts

Guards Other Stretch Post Post
Guards Other Stretch Post Post
Jordan Geist K.J. Santos Kevin Puryear Reed Nikko
Cullen VanLeer Mitchell Smith Jeremiah Timon
Dru Smith
Javon Pickett
Xavier Pinson
Mark Smith
Torrence Watson

Guards like Torrence Watson and Cullen VanLeer aren’t going to be considered primary ball handlers. Both should be capable of switching onto a primary ball handler in certain circumstances, but you aren’t going to inbound the ball to them 94 feet from the basket against a press and ask them to break it.

Even Watson and VanLeer are different players. CVL is much more of a spot-up shooter, and Watson is wired to score the ball from all three levels. But neither is considered a primary or secondary ball handler.

I’m also slotting Javon Pickett in here, though some rumors persist that he might be pegged as a bit of a secondary ball handler in the future. In high school Pickett was a lot like Watson, but he was even more of an attacker, scoring a lot of his points from 12-15 feet and in.

I call them wings. Santos is a wing, too, but again, he runs 6’7 to 6’8 and appears to be carrying 230 pounds, so he can defend down a position.

Off the ball guards

Guards Wings Others Stretch Post Post
Guards Wings Others Stretch Post Post
Jordan Geist Cullen VanLeer K.J Santos Kevin Puryear Reed Nikko
Dru Smith Javon Pickett Mitchell Smith Jeremiah Timon
Xavier Pinson Torrence Watson
Mark Smith

Now we break this down another step further by breaking out primary and secondary ball handlers.

A primary is certainly going to be considered by most a point guard by tradition. Phil Pressey was a point guard, and I guess many considered Jordan Clarkson one as well. But this is where you get the difference. Clarkson is a guard capable of being the primary guard if asked to, in the same way that Jordan Geist was one last year. But neither is a primary ball handler. Pressey is a point guard in the traditional sense. Blake Harris was, as well, but he isn’t on this roster anymore.

This is where Mizzou’s current roster gets a little iffy. The Tigers have only one true point guard on the roster eligible to play next season and he is an unranked freshman.

Positionless Depth

Point Guard Combo Guard Wings Others Stretch Post Post
Point Guard Combo Guard Wings Others Stretch Post Post
Dru Smith Jordan Geist Cullen VanLeer K.J Santos Kevin Puryear Reed Nikko
Xavier Pinson Mark Smith Javon Pickett Mitchell Smith Jeremiah Timon
Torrence Watson

The fact that Missouri is going to be without Dru Smith, Mark Smith, and possibly VanLeer next season pokes some holes into the lineup in a way you certainly hope someone like K.J. Santos can try to fill the void.

The 2019-20 roster improves automatically with multiple guards who can be either the primary or secondary ball handlers, and this doesn’t include any incoming 2019 recruits.

For the Tigers to exceed expectations next season, they need another step from multiple players. But with a combo guard, a wing and a stretch post player leaving after next season you can start to see Mizzou’s priorities on the recruiting trail for 2019.