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What we all want to see from Missouri basketball in 2022

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NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

It’s back! The annual tradition of looking at the Missouri Basketball program on a calendar year basis is upon us again. I like this as a process because it’s less about seasonal success, which we’ve seen can be fleeting, and it’s more about where the program is versus our expectations. Fan expectations for Missouri basketball can be all over the place. My expectations may be different than your expectations, but in the end we all want a program we can at least be excited about watching the games.

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

Sheesh. Watching this much Missouri Basketball really should carry a warning for your mental health.

So how did our expectations/hopes turn out for 2020 in comparison to reality? Let’s revisit:

  • Finish in the top 4 in the SEC: This is a no. In early February Missouri was ranked in the top 10 and were sitting at 6-3 in league play, but a 3 game losing streak set them back and they finished .500 in the conference. A promising start led to a disappointing finish.
  • Get to the NCAA tournament with a good seed: They DID get to the NCAA Tournament, I’m not sure a 9 seed should be considered a good seed. Considering where Missouri has been you should never shrug off a tournament berth, but this was still a disappointing result.
  • Facing roster turnover, Mizzou needs a big spring: Missouri had a big spring by strict definition, but Martin turned over nearly the entire roster and the team has been much worse than they were a year ago.
  • At least one recruiting breakthrough in the 2022 class: This actually happened! Martin and his staff finally added a top level player and a primary target when they landed Aidan Shaw. After multiple seasons of missing out on their top target, winning that battle felt great.
  • Navigate a potentially bumpy start to 2021-22: It’s clear at this point this season has gone poorly. Martin knew what the non-conference slate was going to be tough and his team has looked pretty unprepared.

So where will things go in 2022? Here’s the wish list...

Recover from the ugly start

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been bad. Nothing in sports is static, and we’ve seen enough flashes of Missouri to know what their best version of this team is. We need to see that version far more often.

Missouri’s raw efficiency margin this season is -0.06 or minus 6 points every 100 possessions. If you remove non-Power Conference opponents that number plummets to -20 points every 100 possession. The bad news is there are no more non-Power Conference teams left on the schedule. Missouri has 18 regular season games left, 17 against the SEC and one game against Iowa State. They are favored right now in KenPom to win just one game, and that's the season finale against Georgia... a team many people think will fire Tom Crean immediately following the season, if not before.

Expectations going into this season were already low, but the performance of the team has lowered them further. We need to see something more... than that.

Find a new direction

This is not a call for Cuonzo Martin’s job. This is a statement of what is needed.

Regardless of what decision Desiree Reed-Francois makes about the leadership of the program, something needs to change within the program. While there have been periods where it’s looked like Missouri and Martin were a perfect fit, the consistency has been absent. I may be in the minority these days who still believes Martin can be the answer. But not without significant changes to the approach over the past few years. There are great qualities about Martin that make him such a strong and likable character, but the weaknesses have led to so many roster miscalculations and it’s resulted in this sink to the bottom.

Missouri is in a resource rich league without as many resources as the top half of the league. But there can be strategic investments made to ensure you’re still competitive with the budget, and backfilling roles which can help make the program better and more diverse.

Right now, Martin is surrounded by assistant coaches who are similar to him. They’re old school grinders. The support staff is limited. And in turn they’ve assembled a roster without enough difference makers. The approach has failed. Who Missouri has been over the last 20ish years has been mediocre. There has been very bad, and very good, but an awful lot of just... adequate. In order to change the level of mediocrity you need to understand your disadvantages, and find ways in the margins to overcome them.

Mizzou is not destitute, but they’re fighting an uphill battle. There are elements of Martin’s approach which work here. Dogged hard work, humble attitudes, guys with a chip on their shoulder.

So I’m not calling for anyone to be fired. But whoever is in the program once the final decisions are made, they need to find a new path for how to get this thing back to where everyone wants it.

Have a momentum changing spring

Different minds will have different ideas on the state of the roster. I contend it’s not as bad as they’ve played, and there are some good foundational pieces which could make a quick bounce back pretty easy.

Let’s take stock:

mizzou basketball scholarship count 9-17-21

Right now Mizzou has had two fairly large groups in their transfers and freshman signees all added to the roster. There are nine players who joined the roster this last offseason, after having multiple seasons of nearly zero roster turnover.

There are currently just two signees in Aidan Shaw and Christian Jones, and no open roster spots. Without kicking anyone off the roster, you NEED roster spots to open up this spring.

Roster turnover is expected this day in age. Because I’m addicted to this by this stage in the game, here’s the numbers:

  • 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

Missouri at the very least needs to find a point guard who can handle a minutes load. That and someone who can consistently make shots from the outside... well that would be nice, too. Maybe two of those guys actually. Or 3.

It’s also quite important to keep around the guys who you believe can help this program forward.

Establish the ‘23 class as a continuation on the theme

Breaking through by finally landing Aidan Shaw, the current Mizzou staff landed their big fish. If Martin is still around he needs to build upon that by landing another elite level talent. He’s invested time and energy into Oak Hill product Justin McBride, a 4-star combo forward originally from Texas. It’s likely Missouri is also seeking a point guard, as they’ve offered several.

It’s unlikely any recruiting class will be very large, as the transfer portal has become far too important and supplemental additions are likely going to be in the following spring. But you should approach each signing class wanting to ink at least two players.

Apply the new approach, and look like it’s working

I don’t mean this last section to be flippant, but as someone who looked at this last offseason and could make the case for a plan... and then seeing whatever plan there might’ve been really, really not work well at all. Whatever the next step is, it needs to be bold and daring and it needs to work.

For Missouri to become what fans want Missouri to be, plans have to work. Design has to work, and development has to work. Martin runs a modern offense, but modern offense doesn’t work if you have no hope to space the floor.

Cuonzo Martin’s failing with this team has been its complete inability to space the floor. Mizzou is currently one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. It’s just impossible to win if you can’t be at least a threat to make a three pointer. Last season Mizzou was 230th in 3FG% and that was within the very soft middle of shooting. This year they’re at the bottom, which is an extreme bottom.

I’ve been saying for a while, but there are a million ways to win in basketball. You can play fast, you can play slow, you can play medium. You can press, you can zone, you can play pack-line defense. You can space the floor, you can attack the rim, you can mash the ball down into the post. There’s a lot of different styles that work, but those styles don’t matter unless you can win.

Whether that’s Cuonzo Martin finding a new way to win at Missouri, or a new and different coach, the most important segment of this entire exercise this year is “Finding a new direction.” For decades Mizzou has just been mediocre, and if they want to be anything other than that there needs to be administrative commitment equal to that of the most passionate fans. That commitment can mean a lot of things, but it wouldn’t take a huge investment to put Missouri on a much better path than it’s been on for nearly the entirety of the 2000s.

In 2022, you want to see things work for Missouri basketball.