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The Verdict: Mizzou Hoops Program Building Series Part I — A 24 Month Checkup

Part I: A recap and analysis of the Mizzou Basketball Roster situation through the first two years of the Dennis Gates era

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

Just before Christmas I made my annual pilgrimage to the Enterprise Center to take in the latest edition of Braggin’ Rights series. A week prior Mizzou had suffered a loss to Seton Hall on the west side of the Show-Me State. Two weeks prior, a competitive loss came in Lawrence. Approximately a month earlier, Mizzou dropped a shocker in the friendly confines to a winless Jackson State outfit. Needless to say, a season-changing result was on every Tigers’ Christmas list.

As I sat two rows off the court, (editor’s note: subtle flex here, Watkins) I witnessed a bludgeoning unfold instead. A game Illini outfit laid waste to the Tiger squad in every way possible. While many of my colleagues — and others clad in black and gold — headed for the mountains of the event’s former title sponsor, I was tethered to my seat. Staring blankly as Illinois raced up and down the court and unleashing an avalanche of buckets. My mind wandered to not just this season’s affairs, but the bigger picture. I could only ask myself...

“Where is this thing heading?’

And here we are.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Dennis Gates is in year number two of the hopeful recuperation of a program that has seen its fair share of success historically. After a riveting inaugural year in which Gates’s Tigers won 25 games, earned a double bye in the SEC league postseason tournament and won the program’s first NCAA game in over a decade, things have settled down considerably on the court.

This isn’t an entirely unfamiliar phenomenon in recent Tiger history. In fact, after Norm Stewart’s tenure came to a close, six men have taken the reigns of the program. Four of them have turned in an NCAA tournament appearance in year number one. Yet the program has been plagued by a lack of consistency thereafter. Only two coaches — Quin Snyder and Mike Anderson — have appeared in three NCAA tournaments during their tenures here. Consistency has plagued this program and is at the top of the list for each new hire to fix. Building a program has eluded most coaches here. For Dennis Gates, the hard part starts now.

In this series, we’re going to take a look at how this Mizzou staff is situating itself strategically for the future to accomplish that goal. We’ll then look back on the historical performance of the model that by most outward appearances is being implemented here. We will certainly discuss the strengths and pitfalls of that strategy. And finally, the program’s path forward will be analyzed. Each issue will receive the full attention of an installment in this series. So bear with me, it’s not coming in 240 characters.

In part one, we’re going to focus on the roster movement of Mizzou’s team for the past 20+ months to fully understand what this coaching staff is attempting to build and how they’re going about doing it.

Ignore What’s Being Said — Watch What’s Being Done

Dennis Gates and his staff have been busy men their first two years on the job. Roster flux is now the norm in college basketball, but Mizzou has fallen on the extreme edge of that spectrum. By my count, thirty-nine players have appeared in a Tiger basketball game the last four seasons — excluding those players limited to blowout-only appearances. Gates is only responsible for half of those seasons, but that is simply an astonishing number. Only two of those 39 players have appeared in Mizzou games three of the last four seasons. Thank goodness for the Browns from Huntsville, Alabama!

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

While it’s virtually impossible to build a roster in 2024 with freshmen who stay for four seasons, the turnover here is still marked. Severe roster churn has been the rule, not the exception, at 1 Champions Drive. The following charts reflect the Dennis Gates era team roster construction in showing the identity of the players, how they were acquired and what age they were in terms of eligibility during the given season.

Year 1 Roster

Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Kobe Brown Retained X
Ronnie DeGray Retained X
Kaleb Brown Retained X
Aidan Shaw Prep X
Sean East JUCO Transfer X
Mohamed Diarra JUCO Transfer X
D'Moi Hodge DI Transfer X
Noah Carter DI Transfer X
Isiaih Mosley DI Transfer X
Nick Honor DI Transfer X
Tre Gomillion DI Transfer X
DeAndre Gholston DI Transfer X
Mabor Majak DI Transfer X

In Gates’s first season the directive was abundantly clear. Mizzou only returned three players in Kobe Brown, Kaleb Brown and Ronnie DeGray III. The rest of the squad needed to be built on the fly. As he showed at Cleveland State, the new coach was up to the task. Gates imported ten new faces. Aidan Shaw was released from his letter of intent and later repledged his commitment. Two new additions came from the Junior College ranks. Three came over from Gates’s former program at Cleveland State. The remaining four came from an assortment of Division-I programs. The overriding theme for the newcomers: They were brimming with collegiate experience.

Only two of thirteen Tigers were classified as underclassmen. The results paid immediate dividends with a successful debut season and Mizzou’s first March Madness win in ages. The top seven players in minutes played were all in their fourth or fifth year of college eligibility. However, a combination of graduation and losses of key performers — Isiaih Mosley and Kobe Brown turned to the professional ranks last spring with eligibility remaining — forced the need for a fairly comprehensive rebuild once again.

Year 2 Roster

Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Sean East Retained X
Nick Honor Retained X
Noah Carter Retained X
Aidan Shaw Retained X
Mabor Majak Retained X
Kaleb Brown Retained X
Anthony Robinson Prep X
Jordan Butler Prep X
Trent Pierce Prep X
Curt Lewis JUCO Transfer X
Tamar Bates DI Transfer X
Caleb Grill DI Transfer X
Connor Vanover DI Transfer X
Jesus Carralero Martin DI Transfer X
John Tonje DI Transfer X

Dennis Gates and his staff responded by importing six upperclassmen transfers to bolster the roster. In a slight change from the year prior, he supplemented that group with three high school signees. In addition, Shaw returned to Mizzou giving the Tigers four underclassmen — doubling the figure from the year prior.

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

While the results on the court to this point have been far less than desired, there may be some longer-term benefits. Should the freshmen class stay intact, it would be the first time in five Tiger off-seasons that three freshmen — who saw relevant time on the court — stuck around for a sophomore year at Mizzou. The thought is even more compelling when you consider all were ranked among the top 150 recruits nationally when they signed.

Potential Year 3 Roster

Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Player Acquisition Method Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior 5th Year
Tamar Bates Retained X
Aidan Shaw Retained X
Anthony Robinson Retained X
Jordan Butler Retained X
Curt Lewis Retained X
Trent Pierce Retained X
Mabor Majak Retained X
Kaleb Brown Retained X
T.O. Barrett Prep X
Annor Boateng Prep X
Marcus Allen Prep X
Peyton Marshall Prep X
Trent Burns Prep X

**Jesus Carralero-Martin and John Tonje are not included in this chart as they’ve played five seasons of college basketball. There has been some discussion about a potential sixth year(s) of eligibility, but the status — or desire — of acquiring the necessary medical redshirt(s) is unknown at this point.

Should everyone return that has eligibility remaining, Mizzou has an assortment of 13 individuals that stands in stark contrast to Gates’s first year. Curt Lewis and Mabor Majak represent the last of the fifth-year seniors currently rostered, and both have played sparingly this season. Kaleb Brown was lauded for his offseason progress but suffered a season-ending injury early on and has never figured heavily in the rotation his three seasons in Columbia. Aidan Shaw can return as a potential starter and probable member of Mizzou’s rotation. Tamar Bates has solidified his role as a probable starter for his senior campaign.

The remainder of the roster — as currently constructed — is slated to be filled by youthful depth from the prep ranks. Mizzou’s freshmen class next year currently stands top 5 in 247’s composite ranking index. The sophomore class was ranked 27th by the same publication. Mizzou — if the spring portal season is kind — will have eight underclassmen they’re looking to build around. A near complete pivot from the 22-23 season.

Additionally, the amount of offers the staff has handed out to high school prospects provides a glimpse into their thinking for years beyond next. Thanks to data accumulated by Rock M’s Matt Harris, we know that in the 2023 cycle Mizzou offered 30 players and landed three. In 2024, Mizzou offered 58 prospects and landed five — and was strongly in the mix for a sixth. Through two years, they’ve converted roughly 20-25% of offers into campus visits, and 8-10% of offers into commitments. While it’s still early, Mizzou has offered 47 prospects in 2025 and 18 already in 2026.

It bears noting that the transfer portal looms this spring — and while it giveth, it also taketh away. We fully expect the five freshmen to be on campus. The possibility any of the three rising sophomores entering the portal is present, though nothing specific is concerning at this point.

Considering the makeup of the upperclassmen slated to return, and the ever-present ability for players to transfer out, Mizzou will look to add approximately three transfers in the spring recruiting season. But even in doing so, Mizzou’s roster will be heavily backloaded with freshmen and sophomores who will serve as the program’s foundation next year and beyond — if all goes to plan.

Mizzou’s Roster Performance Through Two Seasons

I will be leaning heavily on Evan Miya’s Bayesian Performance Rating (“BPR,”) here — and in future installments — so best to introduce it now. As a matter of background, BPR is simply the assessment of how much impact a player has while on the floor. It’s graded on a scale of 100 possessions and the individual BPR is how much better the team is with said player playing versus not. It’s a much more educated box plus/minus rating if you’re familiar with that. By way of example, a player with a 5.0 BPR rating would make his team five points better every 100 possessions than an average player would. The higher the BPR, the better the result!

For more context, the full rankings can be found here. This chart can also provide a handy reference point for comparing a player’s national rank to a given BPR rating.

2023 BPR Reference
Credit to Evan Miya for BPR

Turning to Mizzou’s roster the past two seasons, the following chart reflects each 1. Tiger player, 2. the year they entered the program, 3. their percentage of minutes played and BPR earned during a given season. Cells with a “-” indicate that the player did not or cannot earn data points under Dennis Gates during that season.

Note: Data Aggregated in early January 2024
Credit to Evan Miya for BPR Data and Bart Torvik for Minutes Percentages

Admittedly, there’s a lot of information in this graphic. But I’m sharing it because I want to call your attention to something specific. At the bottom of each class year is the average and median of minutes played and BPR earned by players within that age group.

Through two seasons, Mizzou has only seen four freshmen compete and those players are producing a modest median of 21.7% of minutes played and a 0.96 BPR. The “average freshman,” if you will. Furthermore, the marks under the sophomore and junior season categories are even less impressive. Tamar Bates represents the only non-senior to contribute both significant minutes and production.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Through two seasons, Mizzou has been HEAVILY reliant upon fourth and fifth-year seniors to drive the team bus, and that they have. We know that structure is undergoing a fairly dramatic shift towards younger players. A season from now — no matter the transfers being brought in — it’s highly probable that 50%+ of their rotation will be made up of players in their first or second year.

The high school recruits Mizzou have signed aren’t your ordinary freshmen, but they’re not exactly the star-studded classes with multiple one-and-done prospects that programs like Duke and Kentucky have made fashionable. While next year’s freshmen figure to carry a share of the load, these are the types that will largely require development and retention to truly maximize their value. The transition is underway.

Mizzou High School Recruiting 2022-25

Year Class Rank Number of Recruits #1 Ranked Recruit #2 Ranked #3 Ranked #4 Ranked #5 Ranked
Year Class Rank Number of Recruits #1 Ranked Recruit #2 Ranked #3 Ranked #4 Ranked #5 Ranked
2022 39 1 62
2023 27 3 84 131 150
2024 4 5 24 59 75 96 126
2025 2 1 20
247 Composite Index Rankings

Whether or not a strategy predicated on signing quality freshmen and developing them over multiple years can work at Mizzou — or is the optimal strategy — is the exact question at the heart of this series. In the next installment, we’ll lay out the historical evidence of a program that appears to be the model for what’s transpiring in Columbia.