University of Missouri

One thing each Missouri basketball player can improve on heading into next season

Cuonzo Martin on Mizzou transfers Dru Smith and Mark Smith

At the Mizzou Coaches Caravan on May 1, 2018, Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin said guards Dru Smith and Mark Smith ould contribute to a deep 2019-20 Tigers team.
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At the Mizzou Coaches Caravan on May 1, 2018, Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin said guards Dru Smith and Mark Smith ould contribute to a deep 2019-20 Tigers team.

Missouri’s men’s basketball roster appears set for the 2019-20 season as the Tigers recently announced the signing of Kobe Brown and passed on most of the remaining graduate transfers left on the market.

As Mizzou players head into summer workouts next week, here’s one thing each man on the roster can spend the offseason working on.

Torrence Watson, sophomore guard

Becoming more of a consistent scorer: Watson finished the season as Missouri’s go-to scorer but getting to that point was a process. At the beginning of his freshman season, Watson only shot corner threes. For MU to flirt with earning a NCAA Tournament bid, Watson needs to make his late-season performance a nightly occasion. If he does, Missouri can be very dangerous.

Xavier Pinson, sophomore guard

Reducing turnovers: To be fair, turnovers are a team-wide issue and not limited to Pinson, but he was one of the team’s bigger offenders as a freshman. Pinson’s natural passing ability is a gift, but he tries too hard for the no-look or flashy pass rather than the simpler one. Sometimes it works and looks beautiful, other times it ends tragically. Pinson needs to spend the summer in the weight room gaining muscle and learning what pass works for each situation.

Mario McKinney, freshman guard

Shooting: The Vashon graduate might be the best athlete on MU’s team as he can play above the rim in ways most guards can’t. Cuonzo Martin said McKinney excels at getting to the basket from anywhere on the court. But for a player who draws as much contact as McKinney, he leaves a lot of points on the floor because of struggles at the free-throw line and with his outside shot. McKinney’s development with his jump shot will be huge for his potential in college.

Javon Pickett, sophomore wing

Free-throw shooting: Pickett is another player who likes to drive to the basket, and only shot 52 percent from the free-throw line as a freshman. Martin said he doesn’t really worry about players like Pickett, who spend a lot of their free time watching film and shooting in the gym. Jeremiah Tilmon shot similarly from the free-throw line as a freshman and saw the percentage increase 20 points as a sophomore. Can Pickett make a similar leap?

Mitchell Smith, junior forward

Strength: The 2018-19 season was the first full season for Smith, who redshirted the previous year after tearing his ACL halfway through his freshman year. Martin converted Smith from playing like a traditional center to more of a stretch-power forward. While Smith looked solid at times, he still needs to add more muscle if he wants to overwhelm the elite bigs in the Southeastern Conference. Strength coach Nicodemus Christopher has helped Smith gain 20 pounds of muscle since Martin’s staff came to Columbia, but the work must continue for Smith to reach his ceiling as a player.

Tray Jackson, freshman forward

Playing immediately: If healthy, Jackson will likely be Missouri’s starting power forward next season and will have to produce at a position the Tigers got nothing out of last season. Martin calls the power forward position a game-changer for MU because the Tigers run a lot of offense through it. To expect Jackson to average a double-double is ridiculous, even for a top-70 recruit. But if he can give Missouri eight points and four rebounds a game, that’s a strong season for the 6-foot-8 forward. A good debut season for Jackson could go a long way for MU.

Dru Smith, junior guard

Getting game-ready: Smith spent the past season sitting out for MU after transferring from Evansville. Many around the program consider Smith to be the Tigers’ best player. He averaged 12 points and two steals per game as a sophomore at Evansville while shooting 50 percent from three. Jeremiah Tilmon called Smith “the best facilitator I ever played with,” and many think he will help MU in multiple ways next season. With Smith being two years removed from his last college season, he’ll have to prepare for kicking off the game rust while playing at a higher level of competition.

Mark Smith, junior guard

Slashing: Smith shot 47.5 percent from three-point territory before injuring his ankle at Arkansas in January. While he was one of the nation’s best three-point shooters, Martin wished for Smith to drive to the basket more in order to keep defenses honest. When he tried it, it usually worked, but he got hurt before he could show more of it. Smith adding another dimension to his game would make one of MU’s more dangerous players.

Reed Nikko, senior center

Conditioning: Martin said some of Missouri’s problems this past season stemmed from players being asked to play more than they can handle. Nikko appeared to fit that bill, being asked to play long stretches with Tilmon in foul trouble. Nikko gave MU good minutes off the bench and has had his own struggles with health, after having two hip operations in high school. History doesn’t suggest that Tilmon will completely kick his foul troubles, so Nikko should expect to deal with more of the same after MU didn’t add a post player this spring. Being able to handle a bigger load should make Martin’s job easier.

Jeremiah Tilmon, junior center

Fouls and shooting: Anyone surprised by this? Tilmon has a long history with foul trouble stemming back to his high school career and slightly turned a corner this season, cutting his total number by 10. But as Missouri’s most important player, he still was on the bench too much. Tilmon was unable to test for the NBA Draft because of a paperwork issue, but needs to show more range in his shooting if he wants a serious look from pro teams. Tilmon’s ability to solve his foul troubles might be the biggest X factor surrounding next season’s team.

Kobe Brown, freshman forward

Learning Martin’s system: Brown had a spectacular senior season at Lee High School in Alabama, averaging a near triple-double while earning player of the year honors. But one of the reasons why he excelled is because he was coached by his father, who was able to base the team’s style of play around his son and play to his strengths. Martin’s system fits Brown’s, but not like a glove. Brown will have to adjust to the college game and how Martin wants him to play.

Parker Braun, freshman forward

Adjusting to the college game: Braun redshirted the past season and was a walk-on, but is now on scholarship and is expected to compete for playing time with Brown and Jackson at power forward. Braun stood out on Missouri’s scout team and Martin added that he’s got a strong IQ for his age. But his last season was at Blue Valley Northwest and he’ll have to adjust quickly at a position where two other first-year players are vying for minutes.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.