As Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson and Mitchell Smith all announced their decisions to withdraw from the NBA Draft process and return to Missouri for the 2020-21 basketball season, the Tigers’ identity this winter came into focus.
Missouri will have a wealth of experience on the court at Mizzou Arena.
Of the 14 Tigers, 11 are juniors or older, the most in the Southeastern Conference and the third-most among all high-level conference programs.
Of the three not part of that group, one is a true freshman in Jordan Wilmore. Another is redshirt sophomore Parker Braun, who shined despite a limited role last season. Braun played in 24 games, averaging 5.9 minutes per game. The final member of the younger trio is sophomore Kobe Brown, who started 26 times last season while averaging 5.8 points and 18.1 minutes per game overall.
One scholarship spot is open for the Tigers after the transfer of Axel Okongo to Eastern Michigan. It’s unclear whether the Tigers will fill the spot at this time.
The Tigers’ highest minute-getter not returning to Columbia this coming season is Reed Nikko with 470 minutes, a total that only rose because of an injury to Tilmon during the second half of last season.
Despite the graduation of Nikko, as well as the transfers of Tray Jackson and Mario McKinney, the Tigers return players who made up 87.7% of the team’s minutes played last season.
In head coach Cuonzo Martin’s other three seasons at the helm of Missouri, the team had 63.9% of minutes returned for 2019-20, 39.2% entering 2018-19, and in Martin’s first season, the only campaign he’s led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament while in Columbia thus far, he started the season with 67.5% of the previous year’s minutes played returning to the squad.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the Tigers fall in terms of returning minutes in the SEC coming into this season, but Missouri’s numbers speak for themselves.
Of SEC teams with 2020-21 rosters uploaded to official school websites, Vanderbilt returns 68.1% of minutes played last season, Florida brings back 68%, Tennessee has 64% returning to Knoxville, Mississippi returns 60.8% and Arkansas is at a lowly 32.7%.
Perhaps Missouri’s biggest game of the 2020 season is the return of the Border War against Kansas on Dec. 12 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Jayhawks return 57.2% of their 2019-20 roster’s minutes played.
If the Tigers stay healthy, their returning cast should bring a familiarity that’s becoming rare at the college level.
The return of Pinson, Tilmon and Smith make Missouri a more complete team.
Pinson played in all 31 games as a sophomore with 11 starts, averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting 40% from the field.
The Chicago native proved to be the Tigers’ most dynamic player down the stretch of the season, scoring 18.9 points per game over the final nine contests, including four 20-point games.
Pinson scored in double digits 14 times, with nine of those coming in SEC play.
Smith enters his fifth season at MU as a redshirt senior coming off his most productive campaign in Columbia.
The 6-foot-10 forward set career-high season totals with 153 points, 146 rebounds and 20 assists last winter.
He stretched the floor with 20 3-pointers and shot 85.4% from the free-throw line.
"Honestly, going through this whole process has been great for me. I’m just here telling you guys I’m going to be back next year," Smith said last week in a video on social media. "... Next year, we got some stuff we need to get done."
Tilmon has 81 career games under his belt as he enters his final season at MU.
The gifted 6-foot-10 center has averaged 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds over his career, shooting 56% from the field, which is tied for fourth all-time in program history. Tilmon has 79 career blocked shots after swatting 21 shots as a junior.
Last season, he was hampered by a foot injury but averaged 8.2 points per game while shooting 58.9% from the field in 17 games.
"Coming back for my senior year, I want to finish school, finish strong, get my degree," Tilmon said last week in an online video. "We’ve got a good group of guys that’s coming in. We’ve got unfinished business."