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The 2021-22 Missouri men’s basketball season is just around the corner.
After an offseason filled with turnover that saw three players graduate and six enter the transfer portal, there’s a lot of unknowns with this year’s Mizzou squad.
Here are five key things that have stood out the most about the Tigers ahead of the season.
Kobe Brown takes on a new responsibility
Last season, Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith saw the most time at point guard, with Drew Buggs as a facilitator off the bench. With all three gone — Pinson to LSU, Buggs to Winthrop and Smith signing with the Miami Heat — a major question for Mizzou entering this season was who will take over ball-handling responsibilities.
When speaking with the media on Monday, head coach Cuonzo Martin revealed that junior Kobe Brown saw a lot of time at point guard in the team’s two closed scrimmages against Oklahoma State and Creighton.
“It’s been fun so far when he’s in those situations,” Martin said. “Now he’s not like that in the whole game, because in situations he’ll probably run time at the five, then he’s at the four, then he’s at the one. But it doesn’t change for him defensively. His assignments are still the same.”
Brown, who is listed at 6-foot-8 and primarily played at the four spot last season, won’t be the only one handling the ball. The Tigers are hoping that playing multiple point guards with an emphasis on reading the defense will allow them to take advantage of mismatches.
Freshman Anton Brookshire, Ball State transfer Jarron “Boogie” Coleman and freshman Kaleb Brown, Kobe’s younger brother, will all take turns taking the ball up the court, according to Martin. The coaching staff doesn’t want to limit anyone’s ability, so don’t expect anyone to be limited to a traditional point guard role.
Martin said that Brookshire was more of a combo guard and Coleman was also a natural scorer, while Kobe Brown was mentioned as a playmaker and willing passer who also has the ability to post up.
Bigger role for Jordan Wilmore
The loss of Jeremiah Tilmon and Mitchell Smith to graduation leaves Mizzou with one true center on its roster: sophomore Jordan Wilmore.
While other players will see time at the five spot depending on the situation, Wilmore offers the team unique size at 7-foot-3 — four inches taller than both Tilmon and Smith — and plays the center position in the most traditional sense. The team is expected to play positionless at times and Martin mentioned freshman Yaya Keita as someone who should see time down low as well, but he is much more of a stretch big.
Wilmore only saw 22 minutes of action across five games in 2020-21, putting up four points and six rebounds, but the coaching staff thinks he’ll take a significant jump in his second year. Martin praised the work the big man put in over the offseason, in particular slimming down his body and getting stronger.
Martin also said he liked how Wilmore rebounded in the team’s scrimmages and mentioned his ability to be a presence down low, specifically noting that he sets strong ball screens that are very hard to get around. But the fifth-year head coach is still looking for the Laurel, Maryland native to show more consistency and relentlessness on the court. The coaching staff also wants to get him more scoring looks.
“We have to make sure he’s a threat around the rim, not just getting rebounds and not just making plays as far as blocking shots and protecting the rim,” Martin said. “We have to get him the ball where it’s productive.”
New faces, new scorers
The amount of turnover means there are a lot of unknowns heading into this season, especially when it comes to who will take on the scoring load.
Earlier this month, Martin and players mentioned that scoring will be a lot more spread out among the roster than last year. But when asked on Tuesday who the best scorer on the team was, Martin mentioned Green Bay transfer Amari Davis, Kansas State transfer DaJuan Gordon, Coleman and Brookshire.
Davis, a 6-foot-2 guard, was named an All-Horizon League second team selection last season. As a sophomore in 2020-21, he ranked fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game on 42.2% shooting from the floor. He scored in double figures in 21 of 25 games and put up at least 20 points eight different times throughout that season.
Gordon scored in double figures 13 times for the Wildcats last season, but only averaged 9.4 points on the season, along with 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 26.1 minutes per game. He’ll look to be more consistent after only shooting 37.5% from the floor in 2020-21.
Coleman figures to be the Tigers’ best option from deep after making 42.3% of his three-pointers last season. He averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists across 13 contests for Ball State in 2020-21 (he missed the first 10 games with a foot injury). He was even more productive later in the year as he got more comfortable off the injury, averaging 22.0 points on 54.4% shooting from the floor and 48.8% shooting from deep in the last five games, including a 33-point outing in the final contest.
Though he’ll likely face an adjustment in his first year of collegiate ball, Brookshire averaged 18.2 points and 5.4 assists in his senior season for Springfield Kickapoo High School.
A fast-paced, exciting style of basketball
Though it’s yet to be seen how it will translate to winning, Mizzou’s style of play should be fun to watch.
As is always an emphasis with Martin-led teams, the Tigers will be tough and aggressive on the defensive end of the floor. There has also been a big focus on playing really fast in transition to take advantage of the athleticism of this season’s roster. And as mentioned earlier, there should be a fair amount of using players in interchangeable, positionless roles.
Martin said the rotation will be eight players deep “without question” and could possibly involve nine guys depending on the situation. He likes how many guys can make plays at the perimeter and the rim, and there should be a lot of spacing and switching to create favorable matchups on offense.
The road that lies ahead
As noted above, Mizzou competed in two scrimmages against Oklahoma State and Creighton, which were both closed to media and the public.
When asked to share the results from those matchups, Martin responded, “Out of respect for the teams, I like the way our guys finished up, I will say that.”
The head coach said that the team started out slow against the Cowboys, who received votes in the preseason AP Top 25, but gained good experience and shot the ball well. Though the team didn’t shoot as effectively against the Bluejays, Martin liked how players were able to get into the paint. The only stat he mentioned from either scrimmage was Javon Pickett having six assists to one turnover in that second matchup.
The team won’t be competing in exhibition games, as Martin felt like he could test out more controlled situations and evaluate players better in the scrimmage format, so the first action for Mizzou will be the opening game against Central Michigan at 7 p.m Nov. 9.
The Tigers have two more home matchups against Kansas City on Nov. 15 and Northern Illinois on Nov. 18 before the schedule gets a lot tougher. They play SMU in the first game of the Jacksonville Classic on Nov. 21 and could face No. 20 Florida State in that tournament. They also face No. 3 Kansas, No. 11 Illinois, Wichita State, Utah and Iowa State in nonconference play, among other programs, including a recently added contest against Paul Quinn College, a HBCU.
In SEC play, Missouri’s schedule is highlighted by games against No. 10 Kentucky, No. 14 Alabama (twice), No. 16 Arkansas (twice), No. 18 Tennessee, No. 22 Auburn, plus Mississippi State (twice) and LSU, which both received AP votes.