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SEC Hoops 2016: Missouri Searches For Optimism

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After their worst season in decades, does Missouri have any reasons to feel good about this season?

I'd be frustrated with that team, too.
I'd be frustrated with that team, too.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

How Did We Get Here?

Missouri enters 2014-15 as one of the biggest unknowns in the SEC, with seven newcomers (five of whom have never played Division 1 basketball before) and a new head coach who's been successful in Division 2... but hasn't even coached at the mid-major level before.  Of course, Bruce Pearl exists as proof that Division 2 success can translate into Division 1 success.  In any case, it's fairly obvious that Anderson can coach (and is probably an upgrade over Frank Haith on the sidelines -- not that that's saying a whole lot.)

Last year's Missouri preview was proof that I was new to this preview stuff.

Every team has a range of potential outcomes.  There are best-case scenarios and there are realistic worst-case scenarios.  And then there are Murphy's Law scenarios.  Between the end of the 2014 season and the start of the 2015 season, Missouri saw three players dismissed from the program.  A rash of injuries and suspensions meant that of the 11 scholarship players available, just three appeared in all 32 games.

If something could have possibly gone wrong for Missouri, it did.  But even when everybody was healthy and not suspended, they still weren't very good.  There were too many bad shots, too many brain farts, too many breakdowns.  By Kim Anderson's own admission, the Tigers had poor team chemistry last season.

Missouri annual SRS

Missouri recruiting

Even if most of us didn't realize it at the time, Anderson was walking into a bad situation.

In three years under Haith, Missouri went from a 30-5 team that was ranked #3 in the final AP poll (albeit losing their first game in the NCAA Tournament to a #15 seed), to 23-11 and dropping an 8/9 game in the tournament, to a 23-12 NIT team in year three.  But things looked even worse underneath the hood: of the eight freshmen Haith brought in during his tenure, five were disappointments who left the program after a year.

Haith tried to compensate by bringing in transfers, and this worked to some degree: Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson, and Earnest Ross all performed well, but all three were also gone after the 2013-14 campaign.  All of that seemed okay at the time, because Haith had three more transfers becoming eligible last year -- but two of them (Zach Price and Cam Biedscheid) were dismissed before they even played a game at Missouri, and the third (Deuce Bello) disappointed and left the program after last season.  As a result, Anderson was forced to rely on the few Haith recruits who were still in the program along with five freshmen.  And the results weren't pretty.

Missouri returning

While returning 48 percent of minutes from the previous year is usually not good, for bad teams attrition can sometimes have the opposite effect.  There was a reason the team was bad, after all, and so getting rid of the players responsible can sometimes help matters.  It hurts that Missouri lost its leading scorer and rebounder from a year ago (Johnathan Williams III, who transferred to Gonzaga), but even in that case Williams is more like the third scoring option on a good team rather than a player to build around.  And it's something of a positive that four of the five freshmen on the team are returning as well; it's a sign that in spite of all the losing, the players are buying in to Anderson.  Anderson says that the team has a more positive attitude in practice compared to last season.

With all that said, attrition off a bad team only helps if the players replacing the departed players are actually better, and that's a debatable point.  The question surrounding Anderson, who was pulled directly from the Division II ranks (albeit having just won a national championship at that level, and being both an alum and a former assistant at Missouri), was whether he could recruit at a high level, and that question hasn't been answered... yet.  His first full recruiting class ranked #56 in the country and ninth in the SEC per 247sports.com, and that's even with having six players coming in (recruiting class rankings tend to overrate quantity.)  It remains to be seen whether Anderson is pulling in overlooked guys or fool's gold.

Missouri four factors

Anderson wants to run a high-low motion offense similar to Bill Self's, and tough man-to-man defense.  The Tigers simply didn't have much going on them on either end of the floor: they ranked last in the SEC in offensive efficiency and next to last in defensive efficiency, and the latter was only because Auburn essentially wasn't playing defense.  But last year, it seemed that the personnel was the problem, not the system.

There are some reasons for optimism as several players showed flashes of potential, and there are some intriguing newomers.  But Missouri still has a long way to go to be competitive in the SEC.

Backcourt

Player Year Height Weight 247 Rating 247 Rank MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG WS Notes
Keith Shamburger 34.1 8.8 3.3 3.9 0.1 1.2 2.4
Deuce Bello 10.9 1.8 1.1 0.4 0.2 0.3 -0.2 transfer/ETSU
Montaque Gill-Caesar 24.0 9.1 3.0 0.5 0.1 0.7 0.2 transfer/San Diego St.
Wes Clark Jr. 6'0" 180 0.9674 4* (#15 PG) 31.0 10.1 3.5 3.1 0.2 1.7 1.0
Martavian Payne Jr. 6'2" 184 0.84 3* (#10 JC SG)
15.7 transfer/John Logan CC
Tramaine Isabell Soph. 6'0" 178 0.8385 3* (#50 PG) 15.0 4.1 1.3 1.4 0.0 0.6 0.1
Namon Wright Soph. 6'5" 202 0.9701 4* (#20 SG) 20.3 6.8 2.3 0.6 0.1 0.6 0.7
Jimmy Barton Soph. 5'9" 160 0.7 2* (#114 PG) 16.6 3.0 1.1 1.8 0.0 0.5 -0.1 walkon; transfer/Houston Baptist
Terrence Phillips Fr. 5'11" 175 0.8949 3* (#30 PG)
7.7 8.7 4.2
K.J. Walton Fr. 6'3" 197 0.9195 3* (#23 PG) 19.7 5.0 1.9
Cullen VanLeer Fr. 6'4" 200 0.8193 3* (#84 SG) 23.5 7.3

The backcourt loses its best player in Shamburger and also Gill-Caesar, who showed some promise before a back injury derailed his freshman season. But there's still some potential here.

Wes Clark is Missouri's leading returning scorer -- which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  Clark missed the last nine games due to an elbow injury, but before that showed some potential as a playmaker -- but not as a scorer; Clark shot just 31 percent on three-pointers last year.  Much like the departed Johnathan Williams, Clark's effectiveness will depend on others stepping up to take the scoring load off his shoulders, because it's not a good thing if he is the featured scorer in the offense.  Freshman Terrence Phillips is a pure point guard who could challenge for playing time.  Alternatively, Anderson could play Phillips and Clark together, but that pairing might struggle too much on defense.

Shooting was another thing Missouri didn't do particularly well last year; Missouri shot a paltry 31.4 percent from three-point range in SEC play.  Namon Wright, though he spent some time in Kim Anderson's doghouse as a freshman (who didn't?), shot 38.8 percent from three.  But that was about the only thing Wright did well last season; his efficiency numbers stunk, in part because he shot a lot of long two-pointers (and not very well, I might add.)  Better shot selection could help Wright, but Anderson brought in a couple of guys who can shoot the rock in JUCO transfer Martavian Payne and freshman Cullen VanLeer.  The latter, while arriving as a low three-star recruit, has reportedly impressed the coaches in practice and could play a bigger role than originally thought.

Another freshman, K.J. Walton, could see time on the wing or at the point.  The coaching staff is expecting Walton to contribute, as he can create off the dribble and at 6'3" is less of a liability on defense than Phillips or Clark.  It's not clear how sophomore Tramaine Isabell fits onto the team; Isabell averaged 15 minutes per game last season but that was essentially by default due to the lack of available bodies.  Between Phillips and Walton, Anderson may have recruited over Isabell.

Walk-on Jimmy Barton has Division 1 experience at Houston Baptist ; at Missouri, he probably won't be anything more than emergency depth.

Frontcourt

Player Year Height Weight 247 Rating 247 Rank MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG WS Notes
Keanau Post 14.1 4.0 3.6 0.1 0.5 0.3 1.0
Johnathan Williams III 29.4 11.9 7.1 0.8 0.6 0.3 1.2 transfer/Gonzaga
Ryan Rosburg Sr. 6'10" 260 0.8463 3* (#49 PF) 16.7 3.3 2.6 0.3 0.6 0.2 0.4
Russell Woods Jr. 6'8" 225 0.89 3* (#9 JC PF) 14.1 7.2 transfer/John Logan CC
D'Angelo Allen Soph. 6'7" 216 0.8927 3* (#41 SF) 17.0 3.3 3.1 0.7 0.2 0.3 0.8
Jakeenan Gant Soph. 6'8" 212 0.9786 4* (#10 PF) 14.1 4.9 2.2 0.3 0.6 0.4 0.7
Hayden Barnard Soph. 6'10" 213 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 walkon
Kevin Puryear Fr. 6'7" 236 0.8193 3* (#65 SF) 20.1 7.8
Adam Wolf Fr. 6'7" 202 walkon

It's perhaps more of an issue that a player like Johnathan Williams was Missouri's leading scorer last year than that Missouri is losing him.  That isn't to say that Williams wasn't a useful player, but his efficiency numbers suggested that he was playing a role that he wasn't suited for.

What's more, Jakeenan Gant -- if he plays up to his potential -- should be able to provide what Mizzou is losing with Williams.  In a limited role last season, Gant shot nearly 60 percent on twos, suggesting that he could develop into a workhorse in the paint.  He also has the potential to fill Williams' role as a rebounder and shot blocker as well -- in fact, he matched Williams' blocks per game average in less than half the minutes.  Gant spent the offseason working on his strength.

Both Gant and fellow sophomore D'Angelo Allen are capable of playing on the wing if Anderson wants to go big, but Allen's shot abandoned him once SEC play started as he shot just 32.7 percent from the field.  Allen has some potential but could use better consistency.

Missouri has a lot of question marks in the post.  Ryan Rosburg regressed last year, going from 71.6 percent shooting to 50 percent.  That's pretty low for a guy who's mostly shooting layups and dunks.  But Rosburg is also the only senior on the roster, and coaches are probably looking for him to step up his production and leadership this season.  The Tigers also have a pair of newcomers who will at least provide depth.  Russell Woods is a transfer from John A. Logan CC -- where he played with Martavian Payne -- and could be an offensive threat on the low block.

Freshman Kevin Puryear wasn't highly regarded as a recruit but has some skill; at least on tape, he looks a guy with some size and strength, but perhaps not enough size and strength to play down low in the SEC -- or enough athleticism to play on the wing.  Whether he's a diamond in the rough or a guy the recruiting services nailed remains to be seen.  Walk-ons Hayden Barnard and Adam Wolf are emergency depth.

Schedule

Date Opponent
11/13 Wofford
11/15 Maryland-Eastern Shore
11/17 at Xavier
11/23 CBE Hall of Fame Classic (vs. Kansas State)
11/24 CBE Hall of Fame Classic (vs. UNC/Northwestern)
12/1 Arkansas State
12/4 Northern Illinois
12/9 Omaha
12/13 at Arizona
12/19 North Carolina State
12/23 vs. Illinois (St. Louis, MO)
12/29 Arkansas-Pine Bluff
1/2 Savannah State
1/6 at Georgia
1/9 Auburn
1/12 Arkansas
1/16 at South Carolina
1/20 Georgia
1/23 at Texas A&M
1/27 at Kentucky
1/30 Mississippi State
2/3 Mississippi
2/6 at Alabama
2/10 at Vanderbilt
2/13 Tennessee
2/16 South Carolina
2/20 at Arkansas
2/23 at Mississippi
2/27 Texas A&M
3/1 at LSU
3/5 Florida

The non-conference schedule is a bit tougher than what you'd expect from a young team that is still rebuilding.  It opens with a tough out in Wofford, and there are trips to Xavier and Arizona to go along with the annual neutral-site game against Illinois.  NC State comes to Columbia as well, and Mizzou could see North Carolina in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.  Yes, the bad teams on the non-conference schedule (Maryland-Eastern Shore, Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, Nebraska-Omaha, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Savannah State) are really bad, but there are a lot of potential (or probable) losses in between.

The SEC schedule doesn't provide for a lot of breaks, either, with conference contenders Texas A&M and Georgia on the schedule twice along with an improved South Carolina team and an Ole Miss team that could make the tournament again.  Oh, but Arkansas is on there twice, for whatever that's worth.

Outlook

Missouri is my pick for 14th place, but that's almost by default.  There are optimistic ways to spin the situation, but when your starting point is a 9-23 team that lost its leading scorer and rebounder -- well, I have a hard time not picking you 14th.

Which isn't to say that the Tigers will definitely finish last.  We come into these previews noting that every team has both optimistic and pessimistic outcomes.  The range may be different (e.g. Kentucky's worst-case scenario is not that bad) but there's always uncertainty.  With that said, the best-case outcome for Missouri involves finishing around 7-11 or 8-10 in the SEC and avoiding playing on Wednesday in the SEC Tournament.  Last place is the worst-case scenario, but that's the case for about five different teams.  If Missouri is 14th, it's because the worst-case scenario is more likely to happen, but somebody else could well see the bottom fall out completely.

As for Kim Anderson, while some questioned the hire at the time I suspect he'll get a third year.  It's certainly not his fault that Frank Haith left behind a program that wasn't in good shape.  Perhaps an outright disaster in his second year will get him fired, but there's enough reason to think that Missouri could avoid the cellar or at least be more competitive this year.