A look at the newcomers for MU men’s basketball

Missouri added seven scholarship players this season.
Missouri forward Torrance Watson jogs out of the tunnel at Mizzou Arena during introductions at Mizzou Madness on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. A four-star recruit, Watson is expected to have an immediate impact on this year's Missouri squad.

Last season, Missouri enjoyed a bounce-back year, ending coach Cuonzo Martin’s first season with a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Surprise contributors climbed a steep hill and led a team without Michael Porter Jr. to the big dance, but the challenges for this year’s squad could be even steeper.

Not only did Missouri suffer the fate of another Porter injury with the ACL tear of Jontay Porter, but the Tigers also lost last season’s top two scorers with the graduation of Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson.

Tasked with bearing a good portion of that responsibility will be the newcomers to Martin’s team. Missouri will have a combined 12 freshmen and sophomores on this year’s roster, meaning young players will have to play major minutes to overcome a tragic preseason twist.

Here’s a look at the new players Martin will have this season.

Mark Smith

Mark Smith committed to the Tigers three years ago as a baseball player.

Smith was a pitcher for Edwardsville High School and his lower 90s fastball attracted the attention of college coaches and major league scouts. Smith pledged to play baseball at Missouri, but an elbow injury pushed him off the diamond and towards the hardwood.

Smith was a top-60 recruit and won the 2017 Mr. Basketball of Illinois over current Tiger Jeremiah Tilmon.

A commitment to Illinois meant Missouri originally missed its chance at Smith, but after a rocky first season with the Illini, the guard decided to switch allegiances in the Braggin’ Rights rivalry.

After scoring 11 points against Missouri in the Illini's 70-64 win, Smith will suit up in black and gold this time in St. Louis.

Smith was slated to miss this season after the transfer from Illinois, but was granted a hardship waiver on Oct. 26 and is immediately eligible.

Smith will factor into the rotation immediately and could start alongside point guard Jordan Geist in the backcourt, providing size and athleticism as a good two-way player this season.

Torrence Watson

Watson, a four-star prospect from St. Louis, comes in as the highest-rated freshman in the class and will either be thrust into the starting lineup or be given significant minutes off the bench.

The top-100 rated wing can score in bunches and averaged 31.2 points per game as a senior at Whitfield High School.

Watson can fill it up from behind the arc, which will be needed to fill the void left by last year’s backcourt.

Watson played AAU with fellow newcomers Mark Smith and Javon Pickett for Jets-Ramey United, and that trio will be crucial in filling the scoring void left by Porter and last year’s backcourt.

K.J. Santos

Santos, a transfer from the University of Illinois-Chicago, comes in two years removed from competitive basketball after a brief stop at Tallahassee Community College.

The 6-foot-8 combo guard has missed most of preseason practice due to a fractured foot, but would offer depth at the wing position and could be able to play the four in small ball lineups.

Martin has been calling Santos “week-to-week” since late September, and it is looking increasingly likely that Santos will miss the beginning of this season. Santos also broke his foot twice in high school, so there are some concerns of a lingering issue.

Santos shot 36.6 percent from three last season at the UIC and has a rare combination of size and athleticism. When he’s healthy, he should receive a lot of playing time, as he can offer floor spacing and defensive ability.

Christian Guess

The latest get in Martin’s class, Guess will play behind Watson to give the Tigers more of a scoring punch on the wing.

Guess was recruited late because of problems with high school courses lining up with NCAA eligibility bylaws. Those issues drove away West Virginia and other high major programs, but Guess was later declared eligible and was signed by Missouri in September.

Guess had multiple 30-point games in his senior season at Shaker Heights High School, including a 57-point outburst against Mentor High School.

Like most freshmen, Guess needs to add some muscle to his frame. He’s 6-foot-5 and only 180 pounds. However, scoring will be desperately needed during parts of the season, and Guess could be forced onto the floor.

Javon Pickett

Pickett is freshman guard who was a dominant scorer at Belleville East High School, averaging 25.3 points per game his senior season, showing an ability to score at all three levels. He has also been praised for his work ethic by Martin and his teammates.

Martin gave the highest praise, back in September, saying he hasn’t seen a player ever work this hard at this stage in their career as Pickett has.

“You’re talking (in the gym at) 6 a.m., 11 a.m., and practice,” Martin said. “And that’s every day, like clockwork.”

The caveat for Pickett is his lack of elite athleticism. He was able to use size and ability to change speeds to score at the high school level, but without significant development, he could have trouble scoring on college-level defenders.

Xavier Pinson

Pinson introduced himself to the Tiger faithful with a reverse slam that won the dunk contest at Mizzou Madness. Later, he continued to show off his bounce with a putback dunk in the inter-squad scrimmage.

Another Illinois guard, Pinson was a three-star recruit from Chicago coming from the famed Simeon Career Academy.

Pinson has nice leaping ability and is a good passer at the point guard position, but proved to be a bit turnover-prone in high school and is still working on bulking up his lean frame.

With the addition of Mark Smith, Pinson will have a reduced role as the third point guard off the bench and could be a redshirt candidate if point guard Dru Smith becomes eligible.

Parker Braun

Braun is a walk-on, but with slim frontcourt depth after the injury to Jontay Porter, he could be forced to play a small number of minutes if Missouri gets caught in a pinch.

The forward offers shooting and shot blocking at the stretch-four position but is extremely slim and will need a good amount of time to adjust to the physicality of college basketball.

Braun does offer some athleticism and was the favorite by his teammates to win the preseason dunk contest before falling to Pinson.

Dru Smith

Dru Smith is still awaiting the NCAA’s decision on his request for a waiver which would grant him immediate eligibility.

If granted a waiver, the transfer from Evansville would instantly become Missouri’s best shooter and would be the starting lead guard alongside either Watson or Geist. He shot 48 percent from behind the three-point line and averaged 4.6 assists per game last season at Evansville.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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