Previewing next season for Mizzou men's basketball

5 months 4 weeks 1 day ago Sunday, March 24 2019 Mar 24, 2019 Sunday, March 24, 2019 1:21:31 PM CDT March 24, 2019 in Continuous News
A comprehensive look at what next year could hold for Mizzou hoops.

Key Departures

The Missouri Tigers will lose four players next season as Kevin Puryear, Jordan Geist, medically retired Cullen VanLeer, and walk-on Adam Wolf all graduate. While the Tigers will certainly miss these four, losing only two rotational players means much of the roster’s core will return.

The biggest losses will be Geist and Puryear. Geist transferred from a junior college after his sophomore year and has been a top player for Mizzou since his arrival, leading the team with 95 assists as a junior. This year he was the Tigers unquestioned leader, setting an example with his gritty toughness and production. Geist averaged 14.8 points, 3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game this season.

Kevin Puryear’s time at Mizzou has not been easy. His first two seasons were among the worst in school history, and just when things started looking up, injuries to top recruits added another set back. Despite the adversities, Puryear stayed all four years — only the second Tiger player to do so since 2013.

A Young Returning Core

Adjusting to the absence of Geist and Puryear’s leadership will be tough, and young players like Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson will need to step up and take the reigns.

The biggest question mark for next season’s roster is what will happen with Jontay Porter? The sophomore missed this season with an ACL tear and most expected he would declare for the NBA Draft, but news surfaced this past Saturday that Porter has re-torn his ACL. It is unclear what impact Porter’s injury will have on his draft stock or if he will return to the team next season. If he does, he will be the team’s best player and leader, adding another exciting piece to what should be a much improved roster.

Aside from Porter, the list of returning players is long. Jeremiah Tilmon, Mark Smith, Torrence Watson, Xavier Pinson, KJ Santos, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko, Mitchell Smith, Ronnie Suggs, Parker Braun, Evan Yerkes, and Brooks Ford all return. That’s 13 players returning with another year of experience and practice under head coach Cuonzo Martin.

Next season’s starting five will likely consist of Tilmon, Mark Smith, Pickett, Watson, and Pinson unless incoming recruits Tray Jackson and Mario McKinney breaks into the line-up.

Tilmon needs to stay out of foul trouble. The team is better with him on the court. His defensive presence in the paint is unmatched, and he draws defenders on the offensive end, giving teammates better looks.

Mark Smith was the biggest surprise for the Tigers this season. After shooting 23.2% from three with Illinois a year ago, Smith became one of the best three point shooters in the country, ranking as high as fifth in the nation for three point percentage before his injury. Smith figures to be a huge part of the Tigers offense next season.

Pickett had a solid freshman year, averaging 7.7 points and 3.3 rebounds per game while often guarding the opposing team’s best player, and Watson has the potential to be an offensive beast. He averaged 15 points per game in the final 5 games of the season. He also broke the record for the most threes hit by a freshman in Mizzou history.

Pinson has the daunting task of following in beloved point guard Jordan Geist’s footsteps, but should be able to step up with the experience he earned this season. He started frequently in the absence of Mark Smith, and held his own against top defenses. However, Pinson had a team high of 72 turnovers in only 570 total minutes played this past season, and will need to work on taking care of the ball over the offseason.

Reed Nikko, KJ Santos, Mitchell Smith, and Ronnie Suggs will also give the Tigers valuable depth next season.

Additions to the Roster

The Tigers will also welcome top recruits Mario McKinney, Jr. from St. Louis and LaTrayvion Jackson from Detroit. These two recruits figure to make an immediate impact for the Tigers.

McKinney led Vashon High School to the state championship this season. The guard committed to Mizzou over offers from Auburn, Iowa, Louisville, Marquette, Kansas State and 10 others. He can play both point guard and shooting guard, and will likely be one of the first players off the bench for the Tigers next season if he doesn’t find his way into the starting lineup.

LaTrayvion “Tray” Jackson is the 64th ranked player in the country for the class of 2019, according to ESPN. Jackson, from Ypsilanti, Michigan, went to Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. He flipped his commitment from Minnesota to Missouri last November. Jackson will provide valuable depth at power forward, a thin position for the Tigers with the departure of Kevin Puryear.

In addition to Jackson and McKinney, the Tigers will finally be able to see what transfer guard  Dru Smith has to offer. At 6’3”, Smith isn’t the most athletic player in the NCAA, but he averaged 13.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in his time at Evansville. He was forced to sit this season out due to transfer rules.

Predictions and Potential

Mizzou brings back a lot of unpolished talent from this season. With another year of experience and practice under Cuonzo Martin, next year's team could be quite dangerous. With a lot of departing talent around the conference, this team has the potential to finish in the top half of the SEC and an NCAA Tournament berth is not out of the question for the Tigers in 2019-2020.

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