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Is the Sophomore Slump keeping Missouri from making progress?

For Missouri to improve on the basketball court in 2015-16, the Tigers needed a significant step forward from their four sophomores. They haven't gotten it.

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

In lieu of a preview for the game tomorrow, I thought I'd just take some time to talk about progress. The lows of Mizzou basketball are well known. Tiger fans are unhappy and either venting online or just outright tuning out of the program. The Tigers have won just 17 games since the start of last season, including four games in conference. Guh... yeah, it's ugly.

Since Tiger basketball has experienced the downfall, we've searched for blame. Bill and I tried to find some answers last week, and as the discussion constantly evolves, I thought I'd approach this from a different angle. #TheDarkWinterPt2 is upon us, but that means that there have been just six players who have been on the roster for the entirety of Kim Anderson's tenure. So let's talk progress.

The production most expected from the sophomore class this season has prevented the Tigers from taking any steps forward (in as much going from 214 to 190 in KenPom can hardly be considered a step forward). For the most part, the freshman class has been solid. They're good some nights, not-so-good other nights, but overall, I think the consensus is that they've been good. But then there's the five-man class signed by Kim Anderson in 2014 that was heralded by many, including myself.

It's funny to look back upon the positivity that many of us had that summer, as it just seemed like Kim was making all the right moves. As the reality has set in, the 5-man class has been largely disappointing in its production this season. How you can typically mark a team's improvement is through the individual player development. When you're building the foundation, the young players have to mature and get better. Well, have they?

Sophomore Slump

Obviously, Gill-Caesar is gone, and he was a huge reason for initial optimism in the class. But outside of Teki, things aren't noticeably better from last year for anyone. Allen is playing fewer minutes per game and is basically a non-contributor. Tramaine Isabell has seen a virtual standstill to his numbers from a year ago outside of a small bump in FG%. Namon Wright is playing five more minutes while rebounding better and not fouling as much, all while shooting much worse. Jakeenan Gant is playing less than a minute more, and shooting worse, while rebounding and blocking shots at a slightly better clip.

That's... disappointing, and certainly not what I would think you expect from this group after a year and a half in the program, and not what I would call progress. In fact, it's a big reason why Mizzou is where they are.

This season was never going to be a great one, but reasonable people cited improvement from the sophomore class as a big reason for at least a little bit of optimism going into the season. When we talked about this group, a combined 21 points per game was not going to be enough production to boost Mizzou into the "not terrible" tier of the SEC. That's a net improvement of 1.9 points per game MORE than they scored last year (if you subtract the 9.1 ppg lost from MGC). I probably would have expected that kind of production from Wright and Gant alone. And in "it's all happening again" fashion, every one of these guys has been suspended at some point this season. Allen and Wright missed the exhibition game, Isabell missed time because of his attitude in practice (sounds familiar), and Gant missed his first action of the season on Saturday after his most recent run-in with the law.

So more suspensions, struggles to improve upon their meager numbers from last year... I think it's safe to say that this class has been a bust. That's not to say that there isn't something salvageable, but they haven't produced and, outside of Namon Wright, provided much of an impact for this team. But what about the other guys that have been there from the beginning? Well, there are two...

Wes and Ryan Progress

Clark looks to be mostly the same player, but he's playing less and shooting better, and I feel pretty confident that he is miscast on this team. Clark averaging nine shots a game is too much, and frankly if Gant and Wright were providing more scoring punch he could probably drop down to 6-7 shots a game and hopefully improve his percentage even more. Also considering Clarks early struggles, the fact that he's at nearly 40% on FGs is a minor miracle.

Rosburg is an interesting case -- his FG% is way up, and he's still struggling at the line but seems to go 4-4 and then 0-3 the next game. He's never been a great rebounder, but those are up a tic. I'd be wiling to say that Rosburg has been one of the pleasant surprises of this dreadful season. So I'll say Clark is marginally better (while being asked to do more), and Rosburg is slightly better as well.

If you take into account, like I mentioned above, that freshmen are gonna freshman, then you have to expect your seniors (5.0 ppg/from Ryan), juniors (10.5 ppg from Wes) and sophomores (21 ppg for the four players) to be consistent. The biggest jump for players is typically done from their freshmen to sophomore year, which is a little scary, since we've seen so little jump from the entire sophomore class. Gant, Isabell and Allen find themselves behind freshmen on the depth chart, and Namon Wright seems to be holding on because of K.J. Walton's inconsistent effort.

So the question becomes ... is this on the players? Or is this on the coaches?

On several occasions this season Kim Anderson has made reference to players needing to get into the gym and work harder on their game. Less video games, less Twitter (I took offense to that last part, I think everyone needs MORE twitter in their lives **jokes** ), and more time in the gym. At the same time, he's praised his freshmen as being hard workers. Every freshman this season has been praised by the coach for earnest hard work outside of practice and scheduled time. So read between those lines and you start to look at the other six guys who apparently aren't putting in the time. Seeing at least some progress from two of them (and three if you want to give Wright credit for everything but his shooting thus far), and it would seem that there's a problem with the initial class that Kim Anderson signed.

What does this mean? It means that I'd expect more roster turnover than we'd initially expected after the season. I posted this to Twitter last night:

The Tigers are still in hot pursuit on Deshawn Corprew, and he is still their top target. But with the staff offering a 2016 center in Cheickna Dembele and looking hard at a 2016 JUCO center in Kavell Bigby-Williams, that means they're looking hard at adding another rim protector to join the team with Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko. Both Dembele and Bigby-Williams are more athletic rim protectors than what Mizzou currently has on the roster, and Dembele's recruiting has begun to pick up. Obviously I'll pass along more as I find it out, but it's interesting that Mizzou is looking at adding two more players.

Scholarship Count 11916

By adding two players to next years incoming class, that would put the Tigers at three over the limit, still with the potential to use their "loss of scholarship" year from the sanctions. And if you're looking for potential departures, I'd look squarely at the current sophomore class as the most likely to be on the outside looking in at this point.