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Just how crucial has the Tigers’ depth been to its early success?

While there are many reasons for the Tigers success, its depth may be the most important and impressive of them all.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, the Missouri Tigers are 12-1 and have bombarded their way into the AP top 25 at #20. Put that on the list of things that you never thought you would say this season. In fact, if we’re honest, this entire season has been just that. Unexpected things happened time and time again for the Tigers, most of which favored the Tigers.

Just a few weeks ago, Deandre Gholston’s prayers were answered as he hit a near 40 foot 3-pointer off the backboard that gave the Tigers a much-needed win over UCF. Next, it was Braggin’ Rights in St. Louis. The Tigers entered the game 6.5-point underdogs and left it as 22-point victors. Most recently, Missouri began league play against an absurdly talented Kentucky squad, yet the Tigers dominated from start to finish, winning 89-75. All of these unlikely outcomes have led to the rejuvenation of a fanbase that was just begging for a reason to buy in and support. Boy, do they have a reason now.

In just two months of play, Missouri has equaled its win total from last season and it’s doing so whilst being one of the most efficient teams on offense in the country. The Tigers rank 4th in terms of offensive efficiency according to KenPom. So, why are the Tigers this good? After all, it doesn’t make much sense. The Tigers are a team that is essentially made up of the transfer portal and only three returning players in Kobe Brown, Kaleb Brown, and Ronnie DeGray lll. Despite having so many new faces and with a majority of them coming from the mid-major level, these unfamiliar faces have quickly made an impact.

13 games into the season and Missouri is one of four teams in the AP top 25 to have five players averaging in double figures. The three teams that join them in this absurd stat would be #5 Arizona, #8 Tennessee, and #23 Charleston. Here are the five players that are currently averaging double figures for Missouri:

  • D’moi Hodge, 16.5ppg
  • Kobe Brown, 15.6ppg
  • Noah Carter, 10.6ppg
  • Deandre Gholston, 10.5ppg
  • Nick Honor, 10.0ppg

Pretty impressive, right? Well, what’s even more impressive is that four of the five have a FG% of 45 or better, and Deandre Gholston is oh-so-close 44.2%. While Kobe Brown has taken over the last two games for the Tigers with back-to-back 30 point performances, it’s comforting knowing that the Tigers have numerous options when the game is on the line. Obviously, it’s not just those five who are making the impact, but yet it’s the entire nine to ten-man rotation Dennis Gates employs.

Take a guy like Sean East ll, for example. While East has not necessarily been lighting up the stat sheet on a regular basis, he has been a constant spark off of the bench and a guy who has taken over games when the Tigers need him the most. In fact, we can pluck a few examples from the small number of games so far. In East’s magnificent game against Wichita State, he put up 17 in a hard-fought victory on the road. In this game, East displayed his ability to get out in transition and finish with his superb left-handed floater. East also tallied four assists, making his presence felt even without scoring.

If we want to take a look at a more recent example, look no further than the game against Kentucky. With 10:12 to go in the first half, Kentucky’s Cason Wallace cut the deficit to four, putting the game at 17-13. Missouri had led the game 17-7, but Kentucky went on a 6-0 run and Missouri went on a scoring drought that lasted 4:30. Luckily for the Tigers, East took the inbound immediately after Wallace’s three pointer coast-to-coast and finished with an and-one. The next Tiger possession came off a fastbreak, in which East converted on a floater to put the game at 22-13. Following that, East grabbed an offensive rebound in the next possession and took the ball right at Oscar Tshiebwe, drawing a foul. Just like that, Sean East scored seven straight and effectively extended the Tigers’ lead to eleven.

One last guy that I simply cannot go without mentioning would be none other than Ronnie DeGray III. DeGray is the type of player every team needs, as he is a great defender and a good rebounder, and on top of that, does all the little things right. Sure, DeGray will probably never see a 20-point night this season, but he doesn’t need to do that. As previously eluded to, scoring is not Missouri’s issue, and if anything, DeGray has been instrumental in assisting with some of the teams’ weaknesses as of late. For DeGray though, it wasn’t always like this. To start the year, he logged just 47 minutes in eight appearances for the Tigers, with his role being seemingly minute. After the Kansas beatdown, Dennis Gates opted for a change against UCF. Ronnie DeGray joined the new starting five and has been included in it since. He has logged 78 minutes in his last three games, as well as averaging 5 PPG, 3 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. Simply put, Ronnie is a crucial piece to the puzzle in the Tigers’ success and has perfected his role over the last three games.

I could go on and explain how each player has been crucial to this year’s team and its early success, but that would be an atrociously long read. So, in summary, the Tigers have quality scoring from five of the nine-man rotation and each player on the roster has done an excellent job at performing their role to a T. If there is any reason why the Tigers could make a run in the NCAA tournament, it would be the team’s depth.