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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Missouri

Xavier has played some garbage Missouri teams under Kim Anderson. They’re about to play a good one under Cuonzo Martin.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Auburn vs Missouri
This guy seems confident.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri ripped off six straight 20-win season from 2009 to 2014 under Mike Anderson and Frank Haith, but Haith’s final season was enough of a disappointment for him to be moved along and Kim Anderson to be hired out of the DII ranks. Anderson then put together three 20-loss seasons in three years, prompting Missou to hire former Tennessee head man Cuonzo Martin in an attempt to return to prominence.

Through two years, Martin is 35-30, has a tournament bid under his belt, and has seen a couple of promising squads undermined by injuries. Now he has a veteran squad with some interesting pieces back and looks poised to put together a push to remind people that he’s the same dude that took Tennessee to the Sweet 16 back when they were a football school.

Martin’s teams have always been built on defense first, and he has put four straight teams easily within the top 50 in AdjD. In eight years at the high-major level, he has had six teams rank 37th or better in defensive efficiency. Offense has been a mixed bag, but his best teams have played slowly and ground teams to dust on the offensive glass.

Key departures

Jordan Geist, G (14.8/4.6/3.0, .440/.353/.758)
Kevin Puryear, F (7.1/4.8/1.2, .415/.322/.767)

Geist led the team in 3PM, PPG, APG, and shot attempts (by almost 100). He had his hand in almost everything the team did when he was on the floor, which was a lot, because he also led the team in minutes by more than 200. Puryear averaged 11.5 PPG as a freshman and 11.8 as a sophomore, but his development petered out and he was kind of a tertiary piece by his senior season. He was solid on the glass at both ends and a semi-reliable offensive option.

Key returnees

Mark Smith, 6’4” G (11.4/5.2/1.6, .436/.450/.774)
Jeremiah Tilmon, 6’10” F (10.1/5.9/0.6, .545/.000/.681)
Javon Pickett, 6’4” G (7.7/3.3/1.5, .366/.314/.528)
Torrence Watson, 6’5” G (7.1/1.5/0.5, .365/.361/.692)
Xavier Pinson, 6’2” G (6.6/2.6/2.3, /.412/.400/.779)

I think any coach would be happy to bring back four guys who averaged 7 PPG plus a dude who knocked down 40% of his threes. Smith missed the end of last season with foot and ankle problems, but he seems to be ready to go for this year. Tilmon is a monster on the offensive glass and an effective rim protector.

Pickett, Watson, and Pinson were all freshmen last year. Pickett is something of a volume scorer who stood in the gap when Smith went down. Pinson is a high-usage guy and a dead-eye shooter with a serious turnover problem. Watson kept his head above water on offense by not turning the ball over at all, but he also wasn’t much of a shooter and didn’t distribute very effectively.

Incoming players

Dru Smith, 6’3” Jr. G
Axel Okongo, 7'0" Jr. C

Smith is an Evansville transfer who is a sniper from deep, shooting over 40% from beyond the arc in his career. He applied for a waiver to be immediately eligible last year on the basis that he had been run off by Evansville's new coaching staff, but it was denied. He'll figure to be a serious bench weapon for the Tigers. Okongo is a French native who joins from the JuCo ranks. He's a classic big man with good rebounding skills and a solid post game. He has enough athletic prowess to be dangerous as a rim runner in transition.

Outlook

Missouri lost a couple of big pieces, but they should he on the rise this year. If everyone stays healthy, they figure to be a tournament team with aspirations to make a run. They'll be Xavier's first big test of the year.