Three questions facing Mizzou basketball this offseason

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

One week has passed since Missouri men's basketball ended its 2020-21 season with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oklahoma. 

While the offseason just began for the Tigers, the next several weeks will be critical for the growth of the program.

Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin has already landed his first transfer to join the MU roster next season in former Green Bay standout Amari Davis

As for the road ahead for the Tigers, it's likely not straight forward. It did take Missouri several tries to land Drew Buggs, who completed its 12-man scholarship roster a year ago.

Plenty more hangs in the balance with the mass exodus for Missouri and a large incoming recruiting class moving into Columbia. 

Here are three questions facing Missouri this offseason:

Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin coaches against Arkansas during the Southeastern Conference Tournament earlier this month at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

Is it a blessing in disguise that Martin gets to renovate the Tigers' roster or an indictment of the program that he must?

It's understandable that this answer is a combination of both a blessing and an indictment.

Even with two trips to the NCAA Tournament in the past four years, Missouri didn't win a game either time. A fresh coat of paint every so often isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially in the ever-evolving landscape of college basketball. 

Part of those sudden changes is the reliance on the transfer portal, which will be overloaded to the point where supply doesn't meet the demand of players looking for a new destination.

More:Mizzou junior guard Xavier Pinson enters transfer portal

Missouri is likely to lose six players from this season's roster, with only one of those (Xavier Pinson) deciding to transfer away from Columbia.

The rest exhausted their regular NCAA eligibility and haven't provided a sign that they plan to use the COVID-19 relief provided by the organization. 

Martin got out in front of those roster holes by committing five players to the program by the second week of September.

None of the new quintet are four- or five-star prospects, but each helps fill out the Tigers' roster with depth at the guard, forward and center positions. 

One area that's a strike against Martin is recent recruiting. Only one player signed from the high school ranks in the past two recruiting classes (Kobe Brown) was a major factor for the Tigers last season.

More:Mizzou basketball lands Green Bay transfer guard Amari Davis

Part of that was the talent already in Columbia and Martin's ability to find impact transfers (Dru Smith and Buggs). This year's five college newbies must yield quick results for Missouri to be successful. 

The biggest indictment is one that applies to all of college basketball, where there's often immediate desire for playing time or an easy trip to the transfer portal.

Year No. 5 for Martin will be the first where his roster will be 100% his recruits.

Kobe Brown is Missouri's only returning player who started more than three games last season. Is he now Tigers' most important player moving forward?

Missouri forward Kobe Brown (24) shoots the ball against Oklahoma forward Jalen Hill (1) during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on March 20 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Brown has been an integral member of the Tigers since his arrival in Columbia during the summer of 2019. 

Now, his responsibilities appear to only increase moving forward as he shoots up the Tigers' roster in terms of experience heading into the fall. 

Martin has shown nothing but trust for Brown since the beginning of the 2019 season — starting him from literally game No. 1. 

One of Missouri's five incoming recruits, Kaleb Brown, is Kobe's younger brother and should only add to the abilities of the junior from Huntsville, Alabama. 

Kobe Brown has learned from low-post players who are strong in certain parts of his game: Jeremiah Tilmon, Mitchell Smith and Reed Nikko. 

Now, as more eyes are on him than ever before, Brown will help dictate the near future of the Tigers.

More:Where Mizzou basketball program stands after another early NCAA Tournament exit

How should Martin be graded for his four years in Columbia, and how does that affect the Tigers' expectations? 

It's an old political adage — are you better off than four years ago?

For Missouri men's basketball, that answer is yes. Martin has helped raise expectations in Columbia. While a success, it's easy to see opportunities left on the table as well. 

Injuries to key roster members (Tilmon, Michael Porter Jr., Jontay Porter, Mark Smith) during Martin's tenure have spurned some success, but the foundation of an every-year NCAA Tournament team is there. 

Now, it's a matter of sustaining it instead of regressing. Martin deserves at least one season's worth of mulligans.

No matter what happens on the court in year No. 5, the East St. Louis native should be given the expectation that the program's next trip to the NCAA Tournament ought to happen in the next two years.

It's been Martin's precedent thus far in Columbia. Why change now?

More:Former Mizzou basketball star Kim English hired as George Mason head coach

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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