Fresh off an NCAA tournament and a 25-win season, the Missouri Tigers showing new life under Dennis Gates.
As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
Missouri basketball, coming off the firing of Cuonzo Martin, wasn’t expected to compete in the conference according to many national news outlets. (But not at CBBReview!) However, new coach Dennis Gates, coming off a 3-year stint as head coach of Cleveland State after eight years on the bench assisting Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, led the Tigers to a top-4 finish in the conference and a tournament win over Utah State. The fun, high-scoring offense immediately brought fans into the stands in Columbia, and a winning culture was quickly established.
Bringing in transfers from his former team at Cleveland State, other mid-majors, a couple from high-majors, and a couple JUCO prospects, Gates was not only able to roster-build with considerable talent but also manage to get the team to gel and have chemistry from the very start of the season. Getting Kobe Brown to stay in CoMo was instrumental to a big first season, and a top-25 national rank in threes made was indicative of how much of a 180-degree turn Gates did with this team. (They finished 341st in that same category the year prior!) Making the semi-finals of the SEC tournament and the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament before a loss to Cinderella Princeton, the last game of the season felt like a disappointment only because of what could have been.
Big pieces of Gates’s first team departed this offseason, with Brown and star guard D’Moi Hodge both landing in Los Angeles, albeit with different teams. Hitting the portal and recruiting trail, Missouri reloaded. Three 4-star recruits signed, as did five transfers from all corners of the country. 3 notable pieces return, however, and Sean East, Nick Honor, and Noah Carter will provide 25+ minutes per game as graduate students. Transfers John Tonje, Connor Vanover, Jesus Carralero Martin, Caleb Grill, and Curt Lewis could all realistically push for starts throughout the season, and Tamar Bates, returnees Aiden Shaw and Kaleb Brown, along with freshmen Jordan Butler, Anthony Robinson, and Trent Pierce will provide rotational depth for what should be one of the deepest rosters in the SEC.
Not shying away from a tough non-conference schedule, Missouri plays 4 NCAA tournament teams outside of the SEC, three of them away from Mizzou Arena. After half of the SEC changed coaches the previous season, Gates looks like the best hire out of all of them, even if it’s supposedly too early to tell. Regardless of speculation and premature proclamation, it’s not too early to declare Missouri a year-in-and-out tournament participant as long as Dennis Gates is coaching in CoMo. A top-half finish in the SEC is expected this year, and another double-bye in the SEC tournament wouldn’t be a shock. Gates is currently working on the #1 recruiting class in the country in 2024, so if the Tigers don’t make the Sweet 16 this year, there’s good money to be made on them doing so the year after. (It’s not hyperbole, the Tigers actually have the best class in the nation right now.)
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Head coach: Dennis Gates (5th season, 2nd at Missouri)
2022-23 record: 25-10 (11-7)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Princeton, 63-78, in NCAA Tournament Round of 32
Notable departures: Kobe Brown (NBA), D’Moi Hodge (NBA), DeAndre Gholston (Pro), Isiaih Mosley (Graduated), Tre Gomillion (Graduated)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Memphis (Nov. 10), at Pitt (Nov. 28), at Kansas (Dec. 9)
PG: Sean East (6-3, 180, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.3 PPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG
SG: Nick Honor (5-10, 200, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.9 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG
SF: Noah Carter (6-6, 235, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 65.6 2P%
PF: Jesus Carralero Martin (6-7, 225, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 5 games played (Campbell)
C: Connor Vanover (7-5, 230, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 12.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 32.4 3P% (Oral Roberts)
6: John Tonje (6-6, 215, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 14.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.3 RPG, 38.9 3P% (Colorado State)
7: Curt Lewis (6-5, 215, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 14.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 48.3 3PT% (John A. Logan, JUCO)
8: Caleb Grill (6-3, 215, Gr.-sr.)
2022-23 stats: 9.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 36.8 3P% (Iowa State)
9: Trent Pierce (6-10, 210, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 102 rated player
10: Aiden Shaw (6-8, 205, So.)
2022-23 stats: 2.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.1 APG, 10.6 MPG
11: Tamar Bates (6-5, 195, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 37.4 3P% (Indiana)
12: Kaleb Brown (6-7, 245, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 0.8 PPG, 0.5 APG, 0.4 RPG, 7.7 MPG
13: Jordan Butler (7-0, 230, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 126 rated player
14: Anthony Robinson (6-2, 175, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 194 rated player
15: Mabor Majak (7-2, 245, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 0.1 PPG, 0.4 RPG, 0.0 APG, 2.5 MPG, 8 games played
Missouri Tigers MVP: Noah Carter
Carter, a former transfer from Northern Iowa, is Missouri’s leading returning scorer and bound to make a leap in production after Kobe Brown took his talents to the professional level. The 6-6 forward had the 14th-highest PER in the SEC this past season, even with the presence of Brown and DeAndre Gholston. His offensive box plus/minus of 4.4 ranked 12th in the conference, and Carter scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games. His best game, however, came in the second game of the season against Penn, where he scored 28 points on 6-for-9 shooting from outside the arc and recorded 7 offensive rebounds.
This year, he’ll get an expanded role and a chance to be what Kobe Brown was to this offense last year. However, the transfer class that Gates brought in is guard-heavy and filled with 3PT shooters. All that means for Carter is having to shoulder a greater responsibility of commanding the interior offense. For a team that struggled to rebound last year, Carter was a bright spot in that aspect, and he’s more than capable of creating second chances on the glass. That’s good news for the high-volume Missouri offense that could be even more lethal than last year with a deeper rotation.
While it’s not the best part of his game, he can distribute if need be. In the tournament victory over Utah State, Carter actually recorded 6 assists to go along with 6 rebounds and 10 points. I’m already preparing myself to envision a Missouri missed three grabbed by Carter then kicked out to Curt Lewis or Nick Honor in the corner for an open three-pointer to beat a conference opponent sometime this year.
While it’s easy to assume fast-paced, volume-shooting teams are less strong or weak, Carter is proof that this Missouri squad can be plenty aggressive and physical if need be. Whenever this team is going through adversity this season, (I hate that word and it’s overused to a fault in sports media but it’s also the only word I could think of as I write this preview at 5:36 a.m., so bear with me) Carter will be there to steady the ship.
Missouri Tigers make-or-break player: Nick Honor
Honor embodies Missouri basketball. After transferring over from Clemson last year, all Honor did was lead the team in minutes, shoot better than 87% from the line, play great perimeter defense, take care of the basketball, and hit some very clutch threes, including the game-winning stepback against Mississippi State while down just one point.
It takes levels of confidence to even attempt that shot. But that’s just another Tuesday for a hooper like Nick Honor. Just another Tuesday for a dude who’s been hooping in college since a few weeks after James Naismith invented the game. Honor’s career high is 30 points, set in December of 2018, before Trevor Lawrence had even finished his freshman year at Clemson. He’s a stout 5-10 guard, but he plays with the intensity of a 6-7 power forward. That game-winning three-pointer last year while Missouri was down just one? That’s not even the first time he’s done that. But that’s just another Tuesday for Nick Honor.
It’s not even the *second* time he’s done that either. He’s been hitting that shot since his AAU days against Zion Williamson. Just another Tuesday for Nick Honor. How does a player who finished 6th on his team in PPG lead his team in minutes? By being completely indispensable. There’s got to be a better term than glue guy out there. Every time I start to write about Nick Honor, I just envision Elmer’s purple glue sticks with Nick Honor’s face on them. I need help, therapy, or both. Honor is able to effectively play on-ball point duties, off-ball shooting guard situations, isolation, anything. On defense, too, he’s able to effectively play solid on and off-ball defense against guards over 5 inches taller than he is. He’s Mizzou’s 2nd-leading returner in defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus, but is also the 2nd-leading returner in offensive win shares and offensive box plus/minus.
Over 60% of the shots he takes are from behind the arc, and he makes 39.9% of them. Arguably, he’s not even a good 2PT shooter, as his 2PT% was worst on the team at just 41.0% last year. Actually, it’s not even arguable. That’s a really bad number. Once in a lifetime does a player come around that shoots the three at a higher clip than inside the arc. That player could very well be Nick Honor this season. Why miss a two when you would’ve made the three? Disciplined and deliberate, Honor doesn’t foul and doesn’t turn the ball over. What more could you want? Maybe a few more inches, but Honor’s D and outside shooting makes up for the lack of size. But he’s not skinny either, as he uses every bit of his 200-pound frame.
Every team needs a Nick Honor on the roster. Missouri has *the* Nick Honor on their roster. Anytime a team needs a three while down one, Nick Honor will heed the call. He’ll likely start every game this season, just as he did last year. And Missouri will thrive. Especially on Tuesdays.
Key analytic: Rebounds per game
More of a statistic rather than analytic, but it’s one that included the Missouri Tigers as an extreme outlier out of the 363 division one college basketball teams. Placing 346th in the country with just 30.2 RPG, Missouri was not inclined to rebound the basketball at times. But, believe it or not, it didn’t really matter. In games in which the Tigers recorded 28 or fewer rebounds, (which happened 22 separate times) they compiled a 17-5 record.
That included a 79-76 win over Arkansas in which Missouri was outrebounded by a margin of 18-38. Missouri’s highest rebound total of the year? 41 against Alabama. They lost by 21 points. Missouri’s rebounding statistics didn’t correlate with wins or losses. There is a reason, too. To put it short, a possession can end in 1) a rebound, 2) a turnover, or 3) free throws. Many times Missouri found itself low in the rebound department, it was because the second option occurred.
For example, against Coastal Carolina, an 86-51 win, the Tigers were still outrebounded 39-40. That’s unexpected in such a lopsided win, but a look at the box score reveals that Missouri forced 27 turnovers. Every one of those turnovers is a potential rebound that the Tigers didn’t have to deal with. What’s better? Getting all 27 of those turnovers and losing the rebounding battle? Or getting 15 of those turnovers, allowing Coastal Carolina to take 12 more shots at the basket, leading them to score 10+ more points, but ensuring Missouri wins the rebounding margin? Clearly the former, right? A turnover on the defensive end is far more valuable than a rebound, and that’s how the Missouri Tigers’ defensive philosophy operated.
D’Moi Hodge and Kobe Brown combined to average 4.1 SPG last year, which, when imagined, actually cuts into the team rebounding averages because it’s another defensive possession where the offense was unable to get a shot off, meaning a rebound wasn’t even possible. In that sense, it’s more beneficial for a program to record 28 rebounds with 8 steals than record 32 rebounds but with 2-3 steals, and Missouri found themselves as beneficiaries of that thought process quite often. (They ranked 3rd in the entire country with 10.2 SPG.)
Now, that’s not to suggest that it wasn’t bound to hit a pothole eventually. Princeton, a 15 seed in the NCAA tournament, made the Sweet Sixteen because it was a matchup nightmare for Missouri. Able to limit their turnovers on the offensive end, Princeton only committed nine over the span of the game, the only time that Missouri’s opponent finished with less than 10 turnovers committed. Throughout the season, Missouri was able to survive not rebounding because they were able to force turnovers.
But when they weren’t able to do either of the two, things went south. Even though the rebounding situation wasn’t nearly as drastic as some statistics pointed to, Gates didn’t take any chances about addressing it in the offseason, signing literally the tallest player in D-1 basketball, 7-5 Connor Vanover. (Technically, he shares the distinction with Jamarion Sharp, and the two will go head-to-head this season. Circle it!)
In the freshman class, Gates signed John Butler’s brother, Jordan Butler, a 7-foot freshman, and 6-10 four-star Trent Pierce. Not to mention, 7-2 Mabor Majak from South Sudan is also on the roster. It’s safe to say rebounding will not be an issue this season, at least not to the degree it was this past year.
The median rebound per game average for D-1 programs last year was 34.3 per game, a bit over 4 more per game than Missouri. It’s certainly not inconceivable that the Tigers reach that mark, especially with their new additions. Will that be for the better? It’s debatable. It’ll certainly make the defense less boom-or-bust and more balanced, but it’s too early to declare the impending increase in rebounds a net-positive or net-negative.
Missouri Tigers 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 9th in the SEC
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16 Exit