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Cuonzo Martin has a lot of eggs in the E.J. Liddell basket

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A surprise twist in fall recruiting leaves the Missouri class hanging in the balance.

E.J. Liddell/Instagram

It was a pretty big recruiting weekend at Missouri. A pair of high-priority prospects Mario McKinney and E.J. Liddell visited campus, and everyone has been abuzz seeing the two in their Mizzou home whites.

As it stands, McKinney and Liddell are two of the three priority recruits left on the board. The third target, Tray Jackson, was scheduled for his Mizzou visit on Sept. 22 during the Georgia football game, but late last week word slipped that the top-100 talent was squeezing in a visit to Minnesota.

And it went really well, unfortunately for Missouri.

In a way, Jackson was insurance if E.J. Liddell rebuffed the Tigers. Liddell has long been rumored to favor Ohio State, with Missouri and Illinois trailing. The Tigers have long favored taking two forwards in their class, with Liddell and Jackson sitting atop their list. They ran through and scouted several combo forwards (see: Malik Hall and C.J. Walker) but found the most traction with Jackson and Liddell.

For most of the summer, activity pointed to Jackson and Liddell as the top targets, and it worked out with both scheduling visits. Yet only Liddell made it to campus, and Missouri is really left working without a net.

The hope is Mizzou is in better with Liddell than the consensus believes

If you’re a fan of the Crystal Ball on 247 Sports, you can’t like where it leads for Liddell. There are six predictions and five (all the most recent) have Liddell picked for Ohio State. Should the prognosticators be correct, Missouri wouldn’t have real paths toward filling the need left by Kevin Puryear and Jontay Porter.

State of Play | Missouri’s Remaining 2019 Offers

Last Name First Name Height Weight Position City State HS/JUCO AAU Offered
Last Name First Name Height Weight Position City State HS/JUCO AAU Offered
Liddell E.J. 6'7" 220 Combo Forward Belleville IL Belleville West Bradley Beal Elite (Nike) 5/10/17
McKinney Mario 6'2" 180 Combo Guard St. Louis MO Vashon Bradley Beal Elite (Nike) 6/18/17
Mosley Isiaih 6'5" 185 Wing Columbia MO Rock Bridge MoKan Elite (Nike) 6/19/17
Beverly Harlond 6'4" 170 Wing Southfield MI Montverde (Fla.) Academy Reach Legends (NY2LA) 10/21/17
Collum Antavion 6'8" 215 Wing Memphis TN Tennessee Prep Team CP3 (Nike) 4/8/18
Thomas Khalid 6'9" 202 Combo Forward Portland OR College of Southern Idaho NA 7/16/18
Braun Christian 6'6" 180 Wing Overland Park KS Blue Valley Northwest MoKan Elite (Nike) 8/3/18
247sports.com

The remaining recruiting board is also thinning out in a hurry. At combo forward, the lone options are Liddell and a fast-rising JUCO prospect in Khalid Thomas.

Missouri basically has to have Liddell in this class. With out the Belleville (Ill.) product, the class possibilities get thin in a hurry. MU is still the favorite to land Mario McKinney, and news of a commitment could happen at any time. McKinney on his own is a very good pickup and an exciting commitment and player. Liddell with McKinney saves the class.

I’m never a big fan of recruiting “must haves,” because no roster should hinge on landing one player. Even last year, landing Michael Porter Jr. was assumed to be that guy, and yet Cuonzo Martin was able to steer the Tigers into the NCAA tournament anyway.

If you miss on Liddell...

The worst case scenario here is Liddell pledges his commitment elsewhere leaving Missouri with no real follow up plan. If Jackson and Liddell are gone, the lack of options left on the hot board is concerning, and the best options are likely still on the roster.

  • Parker Braun is currently a walk-on but there was always a chance he earn a scholarship. His combination of skill and athleticism (at his size) is enough to warrant a full scholarship if he’s able to put on some weight this season.
  • Mitchell Smith is someone who is currently on scholarship and is athletic enough to possibly capture some minutes on the wing this season.
  • K.J. Santos has the size and strength to play around the basket on defense, providing another deep threat offensively to help spread the floor.
NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

All three are 6-foo-8 or taller, and each has an ability to stretch the floor with their jump shot. None have the defensive presence around the rim of E.J. Liddell, something Cuonzo Martin clearly covets. But as a stop-gap solution things could be a lot worse.

And with positionless basketball taking hold in Columbia more by the day, perhaps more guards on the floor isn’t the worst thing in the world. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Whatever you do, don’t panic

Missing on Jackson hurts because robs Cuonzo Martin of a better-than-average fallback option. Even if the Tigers lost out on Liddell, the still would have bolstered a position of need. Missing on both Liddell and Jackson is certainly the worst case scenario but there are legitimate options to fill out the minutes.

But Missouri is still very much in the hunt for Liddell, and a class involving both Mario McKinney and E.J. Liddell are filling two immediate needs from two highly talented and pursued local talent.

Landing both would mean EIGHT players on scholarship were from Missouri or Illinois, with another couple from border states, so there is real pull for the Tigers to land Liddell. He’s close with multiple players currently on the roster and Martin is building a program from the middle out.

The laser-like focus with which the Tigers have recruited this class could lead you to believe they feel good about where they are. Perhaps the rug was pulled from beneath them in the Jackson news, but I doubt they’ll be left hanging again with any of their remaining targets. And that includes E.J. Liddell.