Welcome to Rock M Roundtable aka Editorial Bored aka Pregamin’ (but in the Summer), a weekly Q&A where we’ll consult the editorial board on all the big questions facing Mizzou Athletics this summer.
By now you’re probably well aware that Mizzou Basketball has a new coach. If you’re not, welcome back from your coma! You’ve got some catching up to do.
While we’ve been laser-focused on the Dennis Gates rebuild currently taking place in Columbia, Mo., several other SEC basketball programs have been undergoing sweeping changes of their own. Missouri was one of six schools — that’s 43 percent of the conference! — to change head coaches after the 2021-2022 season, making for a hoops landscape that will be significantly different than the one we left behind in March.
To assess where the Tigers stand on this shifting ground, we brought some of the basketball experts on staff together to answer some questions about the other new faces in the SEC. Who should expect to see success, where does Dennis Gates fit in... and who could be next out the door?
Missouri was far from the only program to make changes this offseason. Of the other five coaching changes, which program do you think set themselves up for the most success moving forward?
Matt Watkins, Guest Speaker: For the purposes of this question, setting aside Mizzou’s new hire in Whitten Family Men’s Basketball Head Coach Dennis Gates, I’m most bullish on Todd Golden at Florida. Throughout the coaching search process, if you couldn’t feel the confidence that I had in Golden throughout my writing, you probably didn’t read enough. Of the five other schools that opened, Florida is probably most situated for near-term success. They weren’t a bad program under Mike White at all; they just weren’t good enough. The delta between where those five teams were and where they want to be is smallest there. Additionally, I’m a big fan of Golden and his mentor, Kyle Smith, who is now at Washington State. They approach the game in a very intelligent way, both in recruiting and in-game strategy. The drawback is a relatively lack of experience, though outside of Mike White, all of the new hires are have comparatively limited sample sizes.
As a second option, I like nearly everything about Chris Jans at Mississippi State. He did well at New Mexico State and has a penchant for doing more with less. He finds players from all over the map. That’s big at a low-spend program like you find in Starkville. My biggest hesitation, however, is the amount of success that former NMSU hires have had. That’s not dispositive, but a lot of folks win in Las Cruces, and a lot haven’t after they left. So we’ll see.
Matthew Harris, Basketball Editor: The wonk in me wants to pick Golden. At San Francisco, he carried over an algorithmic approach to mining undervalued recruits and empowered his staff to dive into the analytics to find solutions for in-game situations like two-for-ones and fouling up three. And then there’s there development of guys like Jamaree Bouyea, a fringe recruit who evolved into a guy who could play his way on to an NBA roster.
But his hire feels familiar for Florida: hire a young coach on the rise and hope he leverages middle-class resources in a talent-laden state. The floor: making the tournament almost every year seeded somewhere between sixth and 10th in the bracket.
Still, I can’t quite get over the fit. Sure, Golden worked for a brief time on Auburn’s staff. But he grew up outside Phoenix, played at Saint Mary’s, and ascended across the bay. Had Stanford, a program that punches above its spending in recruiting, come open, I would have been more bullish on his future. Bluntly, he strikes me as a West Coast guy.
Watkins already touched on Jans, who might have the required skillset to leverage modest resources in Starkville. White’s jump to Athens is a lateral move — at best. And I’ll confess that I’m ignorant as to the moves Lamont Parris is making in the other Columbia.
All that said, I’m still keen on Matt McMahon. We touched on his play style back in the spring, which melds middle ball screens with potent off-ball movement. But he’s also assembled a top-line staff, bringing along one member from Murray State while poaching a solid recruiter (Ronnie Hamilton) and another with healthy experience developing players at the G-League level (Cody Toppert).
Crucially, McMahon staved off a mass exodus in Baton Rouge. Holding on to Adam Miller, a former top-40 prospect, was vital, but so was retaining Mwani Wilkinson, one of the SEC’s better defenders. He also imported three Murray State stars - Trae Hannibal, Justice Hill, and KJ Williams - who can help the Tigers patch over. He mined additional depth in Cam Hayes and Derek Fountain from the transfer portal, and added a pair of top-70 recruits.
We’ll see how it all fits together, but this roster should be good enough to put LSU in the conversation for a spot on the bubble. And if it all clicks...
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: Chris Jans at Mississippi State is my pick. MSU has been a program right on the edge of being really strong, but they have fallen short in big games and can’t seem to string together a consistent season.
Jans did just that at New Mexico State. He lost no more than 7 games in a single season during his time with the Aggies, but what I noted the most about his teams were how hungry and tough they were. They gave tons of quality teams fits in the NCAA tournament during his time, and they made the WAC look like child’s play. Now with more talent and resources in Starkville, I think Jans can take this program to the next level.
Does the high amount of coaching turnover give Mizzou a chance to climb the ranks of the SEC quicker than if there was more stability?
Matt Watkins: I don’t really think the coaching turnover will have much to do with where Mizzou finishes, at least in terms of the other schools making changes. I suspect Florida is pretty well positioned no matter who the head man is. Mississippi State was slated to lose players off of a middling team. South Carolina was probably going to struggle no matter what and the same was true for Georgia. McMahon has done a nice job at LSU turning over the roster, but let’s be honest, Will Wade would’ve opened up the briefcase and put together a middle of the road team.
It may have made the road slightly easier, but that’s more than offset by the ability to add depth of talent via the transfer portal. Which brings me to Mizzou. Prior to adding Mosley, Mizzou’s offseason wasn’t entirely dissimilar to a year ago. They added productive pieces from low- and mid-major ranks with a lone high major addition. That doesn’t mean they were slated for 12 wins by any means, just that the concepts and profiles weren’t markedly different. However, when they added a bona fide bucket-getter, their remaining additions can slot more easily in supporting roles and the amount of heavy lifting has been reduced. To me, THAT type of turnover is most significant to success in 2022-2023.
Matthew Harris: Not really. Mizzou, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Georgia embraced teardowns when they made their respective moves. Florida sat in a reasonably comfortable spot once White left town, leaving behind a talented - if not underachieving -roster before his seat warmed up. The wildcard was LSU and the kind of candidate they attracted.
Mosley’s decision is an outlier, but a welcome one. Before his homecoming, I’m not sure this roster was miles ahead of Cuonzo Martin’s final group in terms of talent. What worked in its favor was each piece fit how Gates might want to play — at least early in his tenure. And he’s put together a staff with several former head coaches and plenty of Florida State ties.
That said, continuity matters. Mizzou won’t have a robust supply. If you’re an optimist, you’re banking on the notion Gates has aligned his scheme, personnel and staff well enough to offset it. We’ll see if that’s case — and whether MU’s done a better job than peers in a similar spot.
Parker Gillam: I mean, it certainly could. Sometimes coaches just drastically don’t pan out, and there are tons of programs that are going through complete makeovers. I’d be willing to bet on at least one of the new staffs having a surprisingly rough year one, and as long as that group isn’t Gates and Co., then the Tigers should jump said team.
Still, it’s really just a competition between all these staffs to get everyone on the same page before the others do. Matt Harris put it pretty perfectly; it’s Gates vs. White vs. Jans vs. Golden vs. McMahon vs. Parris in a race, with McMahon and Golden starting out with slight head starts (better talent).
Even amongst standing SEC coaches, some seats are starting to get a little warm. Which programs are the next to change direction re: the head coach’s chair?
Matt Watkins: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. It is here. Kermit Davis is number one on the list. I think Kermit is a fine coach, but Ole Miss moving Andy Kennedy out only to up spending, open up a new arena and get similar (at best) results is pretty indicative of how that hire has gone, no? Meanwhile, Andy is killing it at UAB. That’s gotta be a tough one to swallow.
Jerry Stackhouse is in year four at Vandy and has yet to break reach 8 wins in league play. I don’t think his seat is super warm, but progress probably needs to be shown. Buzz Williams is also in year four at Texas A&M and my thoughts are the same, though Texas A&M does have a penchant for throwing money around just to say they did. Lastly, I’ll give you a date. March 29, 2019. It’s significance? The last day Kentucky won an NCAA tournament game. There are numerous reasons for that, including a canceled 2020 Tournament. Cal isn’t on the hot seat by any means, in my opinion. I’m just saying, the longer that drought goes on in Lexington...
Matthew Harris: It’s gotta be Kermit, right?
Few programs have invested more in their hoops product than power brokers in Oxford. A decade ago, Ole Miss was among the bottom 10 among high-majors in spending. It played in a dumpy arena. And Andy Kennedy’s roster building required the deft use of JUCOs, transfers and undervalued prep talent.
But by 2020-21, the school ranked 31st among its peers in outlays on hoops and was playing in a $96.5 million building. Under Kermit Davis, who succeeded Kennedy in 2018, the Rebels have reeled in four players who’d been ranked in top of 247Sports’ composite rating: Matthew Murrell (No. 40), Jaemyn Brakefield (No. 42), Daeshun Ruffin (No. 52), and Austin Crowley (No. 124). And they’d plucked talented transfers in Romello White, Robert Allen, Jarkel Joiner, and Nysier Brooks. Not to mention holdovers like Berlin Tyree and Devontae Shuler.
And what Davis done since taking a roster assembled by Kennedy to the NCAA tournament?
Try 44-48 overall and 20-34 in the SEC.
Undoubtedly, Davis will chalk up last season’s woeful performance to awful injury luck after Ruffin and Allen missed long stretches of the campaign. But that doesn’t explain the 15-17 and 16-12 seasons that came before. Unlike Stackhouse and Williams, Davis’ contract structure presents a reasonable out, too.
Under Mississippi law, contracts cannot run longer than four years. It’s why the school “extended” Davis last November. Under the terms of an earlier extension, Davis was set to earn $3.15 million in base compensation this season. If Ole Miss had to buyout those remaining years, it would be comparable to what MU paid to Cuonzo Martin. The question is what circumstances would push leadership toward that decision.
In its history, Ole Miss has won 20 or more games just 17 times. Half of those seasons came with Kennedy at the helm and with a bargain bin budget. But the school and donor base stepped up their respective commitments. Davis has elevated the baseline for talent on the roster. And almost half the conference is going through a coaching change.
The conditions are ripe for the Rebels to push up the standings and into the NCAA tournament. If Davis can’t do it now, when he’s firmly entrenched, any skepticism of his stewardship wouldn’t be out of line.
Parker Gillam: The Matts above already went into it in great detail, so I won’t add much more on it, but the answer has to be Kermit Davis. Similarly to their rivals in Starkville, Ole Miss has had a good amount of talent recently yet has underachieved in most of their fans’ eyes. The different between the two is that Ole Miss has a brand new arena and does not have a tradition of being at the bottom of the SEC.
This screams “make or break” year for Davis. If he can at least push for an NCAA tournament berth, than that might buy him another year. But I just don’t know if this team is capable of that, especially with who they would have to leapfrog in the conference standings.
Got a question for our staff regarding Mizzou Sports? Let us know in the comments and we’ll look at adding it to an upcoming roundtable!