With Pingeton returning, prepare for a different Mizzou team. Here’s what it could look like
On Friday, there was some official word from Missouri athletics. In the case of Missouri women's basketball, no news was good news.
Tigers head coach Robin Pingeton entered an offseason last Monday which wrought uncertainty. Would making a third-straight WNIT appearance, despite missing out on the NCAA Tournament again, be enough to convince a new administration at MU the program can get where it wants to be?
It was, according to MU athletics. A MU athletics spokesperson confirmed Pingeton’s return to the Tribune, confirming multiple reports from Powermizzou.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Prior to Friday, the team and coaching staff was operating as if they were moving into the offseason.
While it wasn’t official for most of the week that Pingeton would be back, it became a likely assumption she'd be returning considering recent coaching changes at Missouri under Desiree Reed-Francois.
It's been days since MU's season ended at the hands of Kansas in the WNIT. That's notable. In Reed-Francois' past firings, she didn't waste time. Volleyball coach Joshua Taylor and men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin were fired the day after their seasons ended in December 2022 and March 2022, respectively.
A change hasn't been made. MU's AD is keeping Pingeton as the women's basketball coach.
That now comes with the expectation that Missouri will make an NCAA Tournament in 2024, which is Pingeton's 14th season. Failure to reach that tournament will most likely mean Pingeton won't return for a 15th season.
This sets Missouri up for a decisive season under Pingeton, one that will test her coaching prowess. It will test her abilities to develop promising recruits, recruit the transfer portal and compete in the SEC in a new era of college basketball.
"I think we all know the expectations," Pingeton said. "I'm committed to making sure that happens."
What Mizzou sorely needs
A piece of what Pingeton has been missing in the last few years has been a bonafide star. A player that transcends the rest of the roster. She hasn't had that since Sophie Cunningham departed in 2019.
Aijha Blackwell could have been that player in the 2022-2023 season, but she transferred to Baylor after the 2022 WNIT loss to Drake.
A player that could be that star for Pingeton is Grain Valley's Grace Slaughter.
Slaughter averaged 27.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game for Grain Valley as a senior, losing to state runner-up Rock Bridge in the Class 6 District 7 championship.
Prior to her senior year, she averaged 23.4 points as a freshman, 27.3 points as a sophomore and 31.3 as a junior before suffering an ACL tear. Slaughter rallied from that injury to become one of the most prolific scoring players in recent Missouri high school basketball history.
She was Missouri's Gatorade girls basketball player of the year, the Class 6 Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year and the 2023 Ms. Show-Me Basketball winner.
Those accolades just don't happen. They all need to be earned, and Slaughter earned that on her journey to MU. Cunningham's journey was similarly stocked with accolades this early on, too.
Last year, Pingeton played Ashton Judd often as a freshman, and the results paid off in dividends as Judd became one of the team's cornerstones.
Slaughter should see similar playing time, too. She can fit Pingeton's motion offense as a player who can both drive and shoot at a high level. The key is getting her acclimated to the speed of the college game during the non-conference season, just like Judd did.
Mizzou's transfer portal options
Perhaps Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin said it best Friday evening.
"I'm 40 and I make wrong decisions all the time," McPhee-McCuin said after Ole Miss lost to Louisville. "I bought a Lexus and I was ready to take that thing back after two weeks because I should have gotten the hybrid."
Pingeton's promise to utilize the transfer portal means she'll need to use it wisely.
With four incoming freshmen, and 11 players returning with scholarships, either some players are expected to depart via the transfer portal or there are some scholarship musical chairs to be played in the coming months.
Either way, Pingeton said MU would be active in the portal, especially in the junior college aspect of it.
"It's going to be really important that we grab a couple out of the portal," Pingeton said. "You want be careful, you know. You want to make sure they fit your needs."
Potential post players
Rebounding was an issue for MU, which improved as Sara-Rose Smith became more consistent and Jayla Kelly got healthy. But, it could always be better.
Lehigh transfer Frannie Hottinger, Boston transfer Maren Durant and Minnesota transfer Alanna Micheaux would all be instant help in the rebounding efforts should MU land one.
Micheaux is the lone player with Power 5 experience, and the 6-2 forward averaged 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for the Golden Gophers. But Durant and Hottinger were outstanding at the mid-major level.
The junior college level would be a great avenue for this, too. Pingeton could grab a player like Florida SouthWestern State's Blessing King. A rebounding savant, King has recorded five 20-rebound games this season with an average of 13.7 rebounds per game. She had just four games where she didn't record double-digit rebounds this season.
There are more options like King in the JUCO route, too.
A defensive stalwart
A reason for MU's struggles in SEC play was due to the Tigers' struggles on defense.
In losses against Arkansas (in the SEC Tournament) and Alabama, Chrissy Carr and Brittany Davis scored 34 and 33 points, respectively. Missouri could not stop some of the best offensive players in the SEC.
The portal could solve that.
North Carolina transfer Kennedy Todd-Williams, a two-way player, would bring experience to the defensive side of the ball for MU. Todd-Williams averaged 13.4 points per game, but the more impressive averages are her 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
A player like Todd-Williams can assist in fixing MU's rebounding issues, provide a capable scoring threat and help defend the perimeter. That versatility would make the Tigers much deeper.
Lexi Donarski, a three-year starter and lockdown defender at Iowa State, also entered the portal. She was the 2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and would also be the type of defender Missouri sorely needs.
Swing for the fences
Look no further than what Angel Reese brought to LSU this season. Reese challenged Aliyah Boston for SEC Player of the Year honors, which was no small feat. Alissa Pili lifted Utah to a Sweet Sixteen after transferring from USC.
If MU has an open spot for a transfer, why not aim for the biggest name?
The Tigers' lineup was able to win games, but not the games Missouri needed to win. Adding the top name on transfer portal lists would help the Tigers get over that hump.
Arizona transfer Lauren Ware was listed as The Athletic's top prospect in the women's basketball transfer portal. She's an athletic big who has Power 5 starting experience. She missed the 2022 season with an injury but has all the potential in college basketball.
Ware is 6-foot-5 and has three years of eligibility. She's the player that would fit with MU's present roster with experienced guards and shooters, plus MU's future with its talented recruiting class.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Why Mizzou is embracing a different look with Pingeton returning