Missouri enters offseason with plenty of unknowns surrounding roster

Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin draws game strategies on a whiteboard during a timeout against Arkansas on Feb. 13 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Martin will have to deal with roster turnover next season after the departure of seniors and guard Xavier Pinson.

Tyler Hollins

Another NCAA Tournament game for Missouri, another disappointing loss.

Saturday’s 72-68 loss to Oklahoma makes six straight tournament defeats for the Tigers, with their last March Madness win coming in 2010.

This year’s season-ending loss leaves plenty of unknowns for Missouri going into the offseason.

After having the luxury of his core players sticking around last offseason, coach Cuonzo Martin now faces significant turnover. Seniors Jeremiah Tilmon, Drew Buggs, Dru Smith, Mark Smith and Mitchell Smith will have to decide whether to return for another season of eligibility, and it’s likely most won’t be back . The five seniors accounted for 42.7 of Missouri’s 73.4 points per game this past season.

All played a part in revitalizing the program, especially Tilmon, a four-year starter. After a four-year NCAA Tournament drought, the Tigers have played in two of the last three tournaments that have been held.

“They did a great job of getting us back where we need to be as a program,” Martin said following Saturday’s loss. “We’ll continue to make progress as a program. So they did that. They stayed the course … I’m really proud of those guys, they really matured, great senior group and just I think, simply said, they were professionals from start to finish.”

While he hasn’t experienced an NCAA Tournament win, Tilmon feels the team accomplished a lot during his tenure.

“We’ve always been underdogs and people always looked upon us when it comes to playing big games and stuff, and we just proved a lot of people wrong,” Tilmon said. “We turned the program around, we just, we built a culture and kept it going and hopefully everything continues from here on out.”

Missouri’s roster continuity took another hit Tuesday when junior guard Xavier Pinson entered the transfer portal .

Nobody’s been more critical of Pinson than Martin, who, after weeks of mulling whether to play Buggs over Pinson, finally pulled the trigger against the Sooners. After playing 14 first-half minutes Saturday, Pinson was in for just four minutes in the second half and didn’t play the final 5:52.

“I think really we got into a flow with Buggs,” Martin said. “We got a real flow, we got back in the game with Buggs, and it just went from there.”

The relationship between Martin and Pinson was rocky at times. Martin repeatedly stressed the importance of Pinson getting to the rim instead of settling for jump shots. Martin often gave Pinson opprtunities despite in-game struggles, but Saturday was his breaking point. With Missouri’s season on the line, Martin went with Buggs at the point, and it proved to be Pinson’s last straw.

With the likely losses of the seniors, Missouri will lose the experience it leaned on all season. According to KenPom, the Tigers were the 11th-most experienced team in the nation . Without the five seniors, the Tigers’ experience becomes very limited.

Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett are the only likely returners who saw consistent minutes this season, while Parker Braun and Torrence Watson played sparingly. Jordan Wilmore played in just five games, while Ed Chang didn’t see any action .

Due to this, Martin may have to lean on big minutes from his incoming freshman class.

Five Missouri signees will likely take the roster spots of the departing seniors, with Martin also expected to be active in the transfer market.

Forward Sean Durugordon enrolled early and has been with the team since January. Kickapoo guard Anton Brookshire and forward Trevon Brazile are fresh off a Class 6 state championship Saturday. Guard Kaleb Brown, Kobe’s brother, and DeSmet big man Yaya Keita round out Missouri’s incoming class.

Saturday’s loss brings a swift changing of the guards for the Tigers. After a promising start, Missouri faltered to end the season despite its continuity roster-wise. Now, Martin will have to retool and revamp with fresh faces on board and uncertainties surrounding the roster.