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What we all want to see from Missouri Basketball in 2024

As we flip to a new calendar year, what hopes and dreams are we imprinting on the Missouri Men’s Basketball Tigers?

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

One of my favorite retrospectives to write is this one. Mostly because breaking a retrospective off right in the middle of the season and encompassing the entire offseason is weird. It’s a weird way to process any sport, but college basketball has such a long offseason and a short season, and an even shorter period of capturing the media’s attention that looking at the whole part when people aren’t paying attention is when the sausage gets made.

Obviously I’m talking about the public writ-large and not the college basketball junkies like me and anyone reading this post. If you’re reading this, chances are college basketball and more specifically, Mizzou basketball, occupies a healthy segment of your news consumption year-round.

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

These aren’t always joyful explorations. But last year and the way Dennis Gates and his staff navigated the start of the 2023 calendar year combined with the 2024 recruiting class and we surely had a more positive 10 months of basketball that we’ve had in a while.

The season hasn’t gone as well as many had hoped, but we’ve really delved in to cover it all. So how did our expectations/hopes turn out for 2022 in comparison to reality? Let’s revisit:

  • Ride the momentum you’ve built and return to the NCAA Tournament — this is a big checkmark for the good guys. Mizzou won 13 games, lost 9, but had huge program changing wins which secured them a double bye in the SEC Tournament (the highest ever since joining the SEC) and secured a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers won at Tennessee, beat Iowa State at home, and won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2010.
  • Ride the momentum into a productive offseason — Yeah I apparently used ‘Ride the momentum’ twice and didn’t notice. But that’s what it was at the time. The productive offseason is certainly debatable if all things are considered. The transfer portal was a bit more of a mixed bag than you’d hope, but the prep recruiting has been nothing short of terrific.
  • Establish the ‘24 class as a continuation on the theme — I think it’s fair to say this can be closely linked to the above comment about the transfer portal versus the prep recruiting. Mizzou has a top 5 recruiting class signed and ready to go. Also, Gates has already struck with the 2025 class by getting a commitment from 4-star PG Aaron Rowe. Now to build the rest of the class and keep recruiting at a new level. Make sure you develop them too!
  • Uhhhh, keep it up — There may be a slight disconnect between the excitement of players committing to Mizzou and the reality once they start playing. Were it not for John Tonje and Caleb Grill missing time it’s possible the Tigers steal a game they didn’t in the most recent three game losing streak. There’s still no reason why they can’t recover and play well in conference play.

So with 2023 officially behind us, and Mizzou sitting at 8-5 and with the non-conference slate over, what needs to happen over the next 12 months to make you feel better about how the last two months of 2023 happened?

Recover from a bumpy start to the season

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Losing 5 games in non-conference play isn’t exactly how most of us envisioned this season starting off. Mizzou currently sits just inside the top 100 in KenPom and they certainly head into conference play with just two teams behind them in the rankings. Last year Mizzou finished ahead of three teams in the KP rankings, but the SEC was statistically worse. Currently only Vanderbilt and LSU are below them.

Much of the Tigers’ struggles have been within their own control. They’ve been good defensively... at times. They’ve rebounded well... at times. They’ve shot the ball well... at times. If they can be more consistent on both ends of the floor then you’ll see a more consistent product, and there’s no reason this team can’t win 8-10 conference games.

I think the NCAA Tournament is surely a huge long shot at this stage, and I’m honestly not even concerning myself with that part. They have winnable games to start the SEC season and if you get off to a good start you can ride that momentum (there’s that term again) to a better than expected record. What you don’t want though is a 6-12 record and playing on Wednesday in the SEC Tournament.

Get to at least 8 wins in conference and be in the conversation for a post season bid.

Keep the transfer portal (relatively) quiet

Mizzou currently has six players who have expiring eligibility. You have to phrase it that way because there are guys who are still impacted by the extra COVID year, but we are just about done with that eligibility quirk. Remember it covers anyone who participated in the 2020-21 season.

mizzou basketball roster count 12-28-2023

Right now the guys who have played out their eligibility are Noah Carter, Caleb Grill, Sean East II, Nick Honor, John Tonje, and Connor Vanover. Jesus Carralero-Martin and Mabor Majak still have eligibility past this season, per Mizzou. Tamar Bates and Kaleb Brown both entered college after the 2020-21 season, and Curt Lewis was a freshmen that year. So next season is a senior season for all three, although Brown could apply for a medical redshirt since he’s missing the rest of the season.

The NCAA is no longer going to enforce their two time transfer rule, so we’re heading towards the wild west of the transfer portal. Anyone can enter and be eligible to play next season. I don’t think it’s realistic to think nobody will enter the transfer portal. I also don’t think it’s realistic that the Mizzou staff wants everyone to come back, either. But you still want to keep a hefty amount of continuity.

Continuity is the reason why Gates is investing energy and resources into prep recruiting. Since roster turnover is expected this day in age and because I’m addicted to this stilly count, here is what each of the previous staffs have dealt with over the years:

  • 2023 (Gates): 8 newcomers
  • 2022 (Gates): 9 newcomers
  • 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

You can find success with high turnover, obviously last season is an example. But the variance is higher. Last year had a bunch of new players, but it also had a holdover 2nd team all SEC player in Kobe Brown. Teams with returning production tend to at least match their previous seasons results.

You already are expecting five freshmen, you don’t want five other players coming in with the portal. At some point you also want to keep your talent and there are a lot of talented younger players.

Build your 2025 class around Aaron Rowe

Syndication: Columbia Daily Tribune Chris Kwiecinski/Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

The borderline 5-star point guard and Columbia native has already committed to the Tigers and Dennis Gates. After signing a 2024 class that included 4 top 100 prospects, and 122nd ranked T.O. Barrett, Gates quickly took the commitment of arguably their top target on the 2025 board.

The 2025 board is an intriguing one that includes Jalen Haralson (9), Jasper Johnson (12), Trey McKinney (13), Efeosa Oliogu (28) and Chuck Love (49), among others. The board is likely to flesh out more as the spring carries on, but landing Rowe at the top before Nike or Adidas even held their first tournament of the spring is big news.

Aside from the prep recruiting, Gates is going to need to use the portal for some filling in. But it’s unclear right now what type of players they’ll need. I wouldn’t think more than 2-3 portal guys though, and based upon who you’ve signed and who is coming in, I would think an experienced point guard would do a lot of good. Maybe a skilled hybrid wing would help as well.

Start fast, beat Kansas and Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know what expectations going into the 2024-25 season will be. But with a young and talented core, there are likely to be bigger expectations than maybe warranted. But the biggest thing is going to be some proof of concept.

The situation at Mizzou is that this was always likely to be a longer build than we thought. Even after last seasons breakout, the shift in college basketball away from hyper experienced portal fixes and back towards building through talent was already happening in a lot of places. And it needs to fester and grow in Columbia. The 2023 class is looking solid, the 2024 class is ranked highly, the 2025 class is off to a fast start.

But Dennis Gates’ first two seasons so far have statistically been worse than Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons. Maybe we’ve forgotten but Cuonzo made the NCAA Tournament and finished 40th in KenPom. The next season was bumpy after the injury to Jontay Porter but the Tigers still finished 68th in KenPom. Gates had some higher highs than Martin did, but Martin looked like he was on solid footing after the first few years.

But Martin had a similar trajectory as Barry Odom. He showed he could be good, but that extra step never happened, and the recruiting was never good enough. He had trouble building the roster at a high enough level to compete for a league championship.

Similar to Eli Drinkwitz in his first few seasons, Dennis Gates has made his headlines mostly through recruiting well. It took Drink a few years to breakout, and it wasn’t without some bumps, but this year he had the season Barry Odom never had. The proof of concept season. I’m not sure next year is the proof of concept season, but I think you need to show progress.

Progress would be beating Kansas on your home floor. Then turning around and getting revenge on the Illini for this last Braggin’ Rights loss.