Missouri men’s basketball season ends in SEC Tourney; Here’s an offseason to-do list

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI - JANUARY 26: Head coach Cuonzo Martin of the Missouri Tigers reacts from the bench during the game against the LSU Tigers at Mizzou Arena on January 26, 2019 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS, MO- Year two of the Cuonzo Martin era for the University of Missouri men’s basketball program came to a close with Thursday’s 81-71 loss to Auburn in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Tigers finished with a 15-17 record, going 5-13 against SEC opponents.  The season had plenty of surprises…from Jontay Porter’s preseason knee injury that forced him to miss the year, to Illinois transfer Mark Smith’s immediate eligibility and impact before he ended up missing most of the second half of the year due to an ankle injury.  Porter is widely expected to enter the NBA Draft and be a first round selection. Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear exit. Evansville transfer Dru Smith will be eligible in the fall, joining incoming freshman guard Mario McKinney and forward Tray Jackson.

As is always the case, rosters are fluid…You never know when transfers could happen. Below is an offseason checklist for the returning roster as we know it today.

Mark Smith: Get healthy and stay that way. The Edwardsville native rebounded nicely after a rough freshman season in Champaign, and still ended up the team’s second leading scorer with 11.4 ppg  in 19 games before an ankle injury that required surgery.

Jeremiah Tilmon: The rising junior from East St. Louis has to show he can avoid foul trouble. His interior presence can be a game-changer for MU but only if he can manage to stay on the floor. His ability to better anticipate double-teams and help find the open shooter would also be welcomed.

Torrence Watson: The freshman shooting guard out of Whitfield School finished the season on a high note. His smooth shooting stroke has translated to the SEC level. Now he needs to focus on being a finisher here.

Xavier Pinson: The point guard from Chicago showed exciting flashes in the early part of the season, with a knack for stunning passes, but also found struggles in his freshman season. He came into his own offensively as the season ended, scoring 20 points against Ole Miss in the regular season finale. Here’s hoping he develops a consistent game, instead of trying so hard to make the outstanding play. It’s exciting to see where he’ll be with a full off-season of college level strength and conditioning.

Javon Pickett: The Belleville native was a pleasant surprise in 2018-2019. He may have been overlooked at the start of the year but quickly established himself as more than a complimentary piece. We also wish him good health, something he was missing in the final month of his freshman year. He’ll be the team’s third leading returning rebounder. If some of that rubs off on a guy like Watson, great.

Mitchell Smith: Smith logged a season high 27 minutes of action in the season-ending loss to Auburn in the SEC tournament as he came off a redshirt season recovering from a knee injury. Depending on his planned role next season, it would be nice to see him physically ready to make a difference inside.

Reed Nikko: Jackson’s arrival will push Nikko further down the bench. He’s a loyal banger, and like Smith, will be the remaining members of the Kim Anderson era on the roster. He needs to be ready to contribute if Tilmon can’t solve his fouling problems.

K.J. Santos: Health has dogged Santos in recent years and it did again in 2018-2019, his first time playing since 2017 at UIC. Santos was a non-factor in Columbia this season. Does this staff think he can make a difference at this level of competition as a stretch 2 or 3? This is his offseason to get fully healthy and prove it.

Ronnie Suggs: The walk-on transfer from Bradley earned a scholarship in the final weeks of the season. It’s unclear if he will remain on scholarship or return to walk-on status, but he’s proven capable of important bench minutes as a combo guard.

Parker Braun: The walk-on from Kansas City turned down scholarship offers from mid-majors and some Power Six schools to come to Columbia. After a freshman redshirt season, he will also stand to gain a lot from taking full advantage of the strength and conditioning staff to fill out his 6-8, 205 pound frame to see if he can contribute on the inside.

The Coaching Staff: Will Cuonzo Martin be looking for a new assistant on the bench? There are questions about Michael Porter, Sr.’s future with the program, if as expected, his son Jontay joins his brother Michael in the NBA.

 

 

 

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