Mizzou chat with Dave Matter

Mizzou chat with Dave Matter

Bring your Tigers football, basketball and recruiting questions, and talk to Mizzou beat writer Dave Matter in a live chat starting at 11 a.m. Thursday.

    Happy Thursday, chatters. I'll be here for the next couple hours. Drop me a question and I'll do my best to get to it. Don't feel the need to re-send if you don't see it answered. The hopper is already full of questions and I'll get to as many as possible.
    Previously emailed to you: How much credit does HCCM deserve for the recent turnaround in performance for the MBB Tigers since the TA&M game?
    I give him credit. I also credit the players for not letting those January struggles ruin their season. I also think circumstances have played a role. The injuries forced Martin and the players to adjust their style. The offense is no longer built around a 6-10 post player. The ball is in the hands of two natural point guards and the offense goes as they go. Missouri is shooting fewer 3-pointers. Some of that is becuase they're not facing early deficits like they were in January. But when your offense is in the hands of Pinson and Dru Smith, those are guards who are get downhill and attack the paint. If Mark Smith were out there, you'd have a better 3-point shooter on the floor but also a high-volume shooter who might take away scoring chances from the other guards and the bigs inside. I thought Martin was incredibly candid when asked Tuesday if Pinson would  be playing at this level had Mark Smith not gotten hurt. "Probably not," he said. And he left it at that. That's a coach admitting that this isn't some grand redesign of the offense on his part. The injuries changed the makeup of this team and its strengths proved to be suited for this look. 
    But also credit Pinson and Dru. Pinson was a dreadful 3-point shooter the first two months of the season. He kept working and is back to being a threat inside and out. Credit Dru for playing through an ankle injury and continuing to drive the ball and absorb contact in the paint. Credit guys like Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith for continuing to get better in their fourth years in the program. But you also have to credit Martin for getting this team to believe it can compete and win games. He questioned their toughness openly after the A&M loss - and they have since responded. 
    Good morning Dave. Just an observation here: hard as it might be to believe considering how much of a big disappointment this season had felt like overall up to these last couple of weeks, and the feeling amongst most Mizzou fans as if the program had been regressing in year 3 under Cuonzo instead of progressing, this 2019-2020 team is now on the verge of making "official" progress compared to last year. Just one conference win away from topping last year's SEC win total of  5, just 3 wins overall from topping last year's overall win total of 15. That still might not mean much to those who were expecting considerably more improvement than that, but for those of us who thought improvement on those overall win totals was just a pipe dream as of only a couple of weeks ago, it's something at least.
    You're shorting this team a win. They've already matched last year's SEC win total of five.Yes, they did win six last year if you count the SEC tournament. Nobody's going to throw a parade for a team that finishes around .500 and slips into the NIT. Especially in a year when he said he had the talent to contend for the SEC and make the NCAA tourney. But this team was dealt some more adversity with the injuries and it's found ways to play better, become a competitive team against the best in the SEC and win some games here late. This is all very promising. Does it erase the early struggles? No, of course not. Should Sterk be writing up an extension and big raise for Martin? No. Come on now. But the recent success underscores why you don't pull the plug at the first signs that things are trending in the wrong direction.
    What happens to the rotation when Mark Smith returns?
    I'm not certain he returns. I'm not certain he doesn't either. Stay tuned.
    But I can't imagine he moves back into the starting lineup. Pinson and Dru Smith are this team's best players and need to be on the floor more than anyone else. Mark can move into a role on the wing and share minutes with Pickett and Watson at the three position - though I doubt you'll see Pickett's minutes shrink. He does a lot for this team and Mark's strength (3-point shooting) is not a Pickett weakness. In SEC play, Pickett is shooting 36 percent from 3; Mark Smith is shooting 35.4 percent. 
    With the (not sure 100% why he did outside of a head coaching change) transfer of Christian Holmes, is there an open competition at CB for Mizzou? I would imagine that Ware and Sparks get first crack at it, but would have to imagine it is more of a wide open race. Would also like to see if Rakestraw can continue his momentum and fight for a rotation spot.

    Great chats and articles as always!
    There's going to be open competition all over this team. I'd say every job is up for grabs other than whichever inside linebacker spot goes to Nick Bolton and the two safety spots for Tyree Gillespie and Josh Bledsoe. So, yes, the corners will have to earn their roles. With both the D-coordinator and cornerbacks coach back on the staff, Jarvis Ware steps in as an obvious favorite as a returning starter. Adam Sparks is the most experienced among the other candidates, but they won't just hand him the job. Chris Shearin, Chris Mills and Ish Burdine will be in the mix. Rakestraw will be well behind the others because he won't arrive until the summer, but if he's good enough to help right away they'll find a role for him.
    Any updates on Tilmon and Mark Smith's injuries?  Do you think either will play again this season?  It doesn't feel like the team really needs them now and Cuonzo's comment recently about Dru's foot injury being more serious than theirs makes it seem like they don't want to play very badly.  I think he backed off from that a bit, because I assume they are under medical care to determine when they are ready to play again?
    I would not make the statement that Smith and Tilmon don't want to play. I've never had a serious back injury, but I've had a sore back and it made getting out of bed painful, much less playing Division I basketball. If Mark could play I trust that he would be out there.
    Tilmon told the staff heading into the Arkansas game that his foot was still sore. He has a stress fracture. Foot injuries can ruin a big man's career. No need to push it if he's not ready to return. But I've never gotten any indication from either of those guys the last few years that they wouldn't want to play if they could. 
    If we've learned anything from covering Cuonzo the last three years is he just doesn't have much to say about injuries. If a player isn't medically cleared to return or doesn't feel ready to return or Martin doesn't believe he's ready to return, then he's not going to waste time discussing the topic. We'll visit with Martin tomorrow to get the latest update, but I wouldn't expect much. 
    I asked him after Tuesday's game if he's learning to deal with injuries better and if the team is learning to cope better now that they've been through so many the last few years. 
    "It’s all life stuff," he said. "I’ve been through worse than this right here. This is a cakewalk. Of course you try to win basketball games. That's the most important thing. Your fans want to win. Your fans want to see all your guys on the floor. But for me, there’s a bigger picture in life. Our guys understand that. I don't waste a lot of time on anything that's negative and we can't control it. if they’re not playing, they're not playing. That’s it. Now what’s the next thing? You can't allow them to get mentally weak. You’ve got to keep fighting."
    Dave, thanks for the chats! I may have missed it, but have you seen Gus Malzhan comment on Coach Drink or the other Auburn alumni joining the Mizzou staff? I would think this would be a moment of great pride for him and not quite sure how to take his silence.
    I reached out to Malzahn through his people at Auburn for an interview after Mizzou made the hire but they never got in touch. He might have talked to others in the media, but nothing on my end.
    Any thoughts on the women's basketball team?  Comments from early in the season seems like they (coaches and players) were out of touch with their level of skill and talent.  Do you think Pingeton's job will be in jeopardy next year if she doesn't get this figured out?  They are painful to watch.
    I don't think her job will be in jeopardy two years removed from a fourth straight NCAA Tournament team. But if next year is a real struggle it's fair to wonder if the program hit a ceiling during the Sophie years. It would be fair to wonder if they can compete in the SEC. They're really struggling to finish games. Turnovers and defensive breakdowns have been incredibly costly. This team just doesn't get enough from its veteran core. They were nice complimentary pieces during the Sophie years but without her they haven't been nearly as productive. The good news is Pingeton's  best players are the two freshmen, Blackwell and Frank. They've been put in positions to lead the program and that's hard in a conference that's loaded with talent and depth and coaching. MU adds three transfers next season who might be able to start as instant impact additions. But these numbers are hard to ignore: MU was 40-24 in SEC games with Sophie. Without Sophie, Pingeton's teams are 29-65 in conference games without her.
    Hey Dave,

    Thanks for these chats. Always fun. While I'm as excited as anyone to see the recent spurt of competitive basketball and particularly happy about Pinson's emergence (his "tiger tattoo" tweet last year made me a big fan), I'm still hesitant to jump on the "we're good now" bandwagon.

    Realistically looking ahead with the bigger picture in mind, I think it's reasonable to assume Mizzou wins at Vanderbilt and splits the Alabama/Miss St home games. Then maybe get 1-2 add'l wins including the SEC tourney. That puts them at 16-17 or 17-17 and probably no NIT. Assuming you agree with that estimate (give or take a win), would you consider that genuine progress from 15-17 last year and on the overall post-Kim-Anderson rebuild?
    I think it's fair to say there's a difference between this team is playing well RIGHT NOW and this team is good. I believe the former. Not convinced of the latter just yet. There's still a bigger sample size that says this team and this season has been a disappointment than it being a good year. 
    As for what it would take to make the NIT, you no longer have to have a .500 record to make the NIT bracket. If MU finishes the regular season 16-15 and wins one in Nashville, that's 17-16. Good enough for the NIT? It all depends on the rest of the field. It's going to be a weak NCAA bubble, but remember, any regular-season conference champion that doesn't make the NCAA field automatically makes the NIT field. 
    I just posted a story on SEC schedules for the final couple weeks of regular-season play. By one measure, MU has the easiest path to Nashville. 

    Mizzou might have SEC's easiest road to Nashville

    stltoday.com: With some wind at their backs, the Tigers head into the final stretch of the regular season facing the SEC's smoothest terrain.
    Will Parker Braun achieve a "double double" in his Mizzou career? Maybe a poll on this?
    He'll have to get the minutes to be able to do that. I like his chances if he becomes a fixture in the rotation. He's a solid rebounder and has a nice touch around the basket and some obvious hops.
    Why is there continuing talk about Tillman and his NBA future? 3 years of low pt. production and inability to play without fouling. What am I missing
  • I would presume people talk about it because of his wishes last year to enter the NBA draft so he could get the workouts and feedback from NBA teams. We discussed this a lot in last week's chat. Tilmon hasn't talked about the NBA or his future plans this season. The foot injury will surely influence any decision he makes, one way or the other.
    Dave, did anyone foresee this offensive onslaught from Xavier Pinson? I thought he had potential but was still, possibly, a year away. He is very impressive. I also like what I am seeing from Parker Braun. I agree that time in the weight room will take him to the next level. I saw his older brother Christian play in Lawrence last Saturday and he is a player too. Evidently, there are good bloodlines for those two. I am more hopeful about Mizzou hoops now than I have been since Cuonzo's first season.
    Yes, they have some rich bloodlines. The Sandbothe family left a lot of sweat on the Hearnes Center hardwood long before Parker came around. 
    I don't think anyone could have seen this kind of scoring explosion coming from Pinson. He had a 20-point game against Ole Miss last year, but he's always been a facilitator first, scorer second. He quietly shot 40 percent from 3 last year but he had a terrible start to this season from behind the arc. He showed some glimpses in the Illinois game of being a more complete guard. That was the game Mark Smith went scoreless and Tilmon was hobbled and barely a factor in the second half. Maybe that was the first indication this kind of evolution was possible. 
    Your comparative stats on Nikko and Tilmon argue in favor of Tilmon starting when healthy, but at this point, what is Mark Smith's best case scenario? Taking minutes from Watson and may-y-y-y-be Mitchell Smith, perhaps (but not likely) Pickett, and then spelling Pinson and Dru Smith? I don't see him starting.
    Mark isn't taking minutes away from Mitchell because they never play the same position. Mitchell is a four and five. Mark is a two and three. If anything his return would cut into Waton's playing time, maybe give Pickett some rest, too. I would think Mark would be the first wing off the bench to replace Pickett and/or Dru Smith when they need a blow.
    Can this team now focus on playing through Pinson and Dru Smith and less on their posts as they've tried to do to the past couple of years?
    I wouldn't say they focused too much on the post in 2018. That was a perimeter-oriented team through Robertson and Barnett. Tilmon played inside but the offense didn't run through him. Porter rarely posted up and played more as a stretch four and point forward. Last year's team put the ball in Geist's hands and asked him to be a scorer and distributor with Tilmon a major focus inside. This team was going to be built around Tilmon inside, commanding double teams and finding shooters outside. The bigs have been productive at times lately, but the team's success doesn't hinge on those guys being the top scorers.
    Pinson has a lot of upside; freakishly athletic but a heady player, too. Any chance he gets some all-SEC consideration?
    The league is loaded with guards, and based on season stats alone, I think Dru Smith is the better candidate from Missouri. His body of work is stronger and more complete. But if Pinson finishes strong and keeps this up, then he might find his way on to some ballots. 
    You mentioned on the podcast that the QB competition will be the first in over a decade, but doesn't go farther back than that? I don't remember all candidates essentially starting equal since maybe Brad Smith's freshman year, if not even earlier (my memory gets a little fuzzy before that).
    Over a decade was probably hyperbole. Mizzou knew who its quarterback was going to be heading into ... 
    2019: Kelly Bryant
    2016-18: Drew Lock
    2014-15: Maty Mauk
    2012-13: James Franklin
    Going into 2011, Franklin had the most playing experience but he had to beat out Tyler Gabbert and Ashton Glaser for the starting job. In fact, at one point in spring practices, Gabbert looked like the leading candidate for the job and was getting the first-team reps heading into the spring game. Before that, 
    2009-10: Blaine Gabbert
    2006-08: Chase Daniel
    2003-05: Brad Smith
    Heading into 2002, the competition was between Smith and Kirk Farmer and it went down to the final preseason scrimmage. 
    Before that, Farmer was the guy going into 2001 until he broke his hand shortly before the start of camp. In 1999 and 2000, the job bounced back and forth between Farmer and Jimmie Dougherty. 
    I have always find it strange that Barry Odom didn't embrace and/or reference the accomplishments made by Gary Pinkel and use him as a resource more. To the contrary, it appeared Odom couldn't wait to change much of what Pinkel had in place and put his stamp on the program. Did his ego get in the way of good judgement and was that a prevailing issue during his tenure at Mizzou? I appears Drinkwitz, at least initially, intends to reach out to Pinkel and glean what he can from his experiences.
  • I can't say how much interaction Pinkel and Drinkwitz have had since their first encounter on the day he was hired, but Drinkwitz has mentioned Pinkel several times since then in terms of doing things similar to the way Gary did things, notably in recruiting.
    As for Odom, his relationship with Pinkel was better than some might assume. Pinkel was among the first people he told when he got fired. They had some conversations last fall about the direction of the program. I think he could have reached out sooner and leaned on Gary for more advice, but initially, in 2016, Odom clearly wanted to separate the past from the future, mostly because of what happened off the field in 2015 with the protests. With the fan fallout in 2016, Odom wanted a clean break from the past. Some of that came from his bosses. In hindsight, it might have been an overreach. At the same time, Pinkel didn't want to hover over his successor. He wanted to give Odom space to build his program his own way. Gary still went to the games, all at home and a handful on the road. But, I agree. He was mostly an untapped resource. 
  • One of the ESPN announcers on Tuesday made the statement that someone from MU told him that “Parker Braun had the best hops on the team”. That has been hard for fans to see because of his limited playing time until recently. Have you heard anyone from MU make a comment on Braun’s leaping ability. I assume he will get ,more playing the rest of the season even if Tilmon recovers from his injury and reclaims his spot in the lineup. It is nice to see his dunks which are exciting the crowd. My only criticism is that he should let go of the rim faster to avoid getting a technical foul.
    Going into the season teammates all said Braun was the best leaper on the team. They might have even said the same last year going into the dunk contest they held before the public scrimmage.
    I know times have changed, but in Norm Stewart's teams he would always have those blue-collar type of players who knew their roles and stayed within the vision of what the team needed. I respect that Tillman is an outstanding player, but since he has been injured, it seems the players have adopted roles on the team and it seems to be paying off. We are not "forcing action" by getting the ball to Tillman inside, but letting the game come to us. Thoughts?
     The team has evolved in Tilmon's absence. No doubt. But I think it's happened organically. The ball has to go somewhere else and the guards have lifted their level of play without having a post player inside be the focal point of the offense. 
    Let's not lose sight of the fact that MU is playing better defensively, too. Teams are not shooting well from 3 the last several games. That's a credit to the guards and wings and the game plan. 
    Pinsion is averaging 10.3 pts per game for the season and 23 over the last 4 games of whichMU has won 3. How do you explain this sudden outburst and which trend is the real one? Not complaining but it is hard to understand the sudden breakout.
    It's really not that complicated.
    1. Pinson is shooting better. 
    2. He's more confident and turning the ball over less often (outside of the Auburn game). 
    3. The bigs inside are commanding more attention and that's giving Smith and Pinson some cushion on the perimeter.
    4. Mark Smith isn't on the court. He was averaging 8.4 shots per game. Someone else has to take those shots.
    Women's basketball comment. I think middle of the pack Power 5 conference schools like Missouri have enough trouble getting the 4* and 5* kids, but I think Pingeton was handcuffed the past six years by having a core group already in place. Now many top players want to come into a situation where they will not have an opportunity to be an alpha dog. I do believe next year we will see quite a turn-around with the three transfers and two incoming freshmen to go with Blackwell and Frank. They still have one scholarship left to fill, I believe, and hope they can find a post player as a transfer or juco ranks.I say give Pingeton and the staff more time.
    Your thoughts on why it took Martin so long to realize Dru and Pinson should be on the court at the same time? Is it a detriment sometimes that Martin is so old school and can't overlook lapses that he considers necessary for playing time?
    It's a misconception that they didn't play together earlier in the year. They just didn't start together and they weren't playing as well together as they are now. But when you play for Martin, who subs a lot, it really doesn't matter who starts because he's going to quickly change the lineup and adjust accordingly for 40 minutes. They also weren't practicing together, and it's easy to understand why. When you play five on five you need a point guard on each team and they're the only point guards on the team. It wouldn't make as much sense to play them together and not have a true point guard on the other team.
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