Missouri to play smaller, more versatile lineup this season

Mitchell Smith looks to be a key part of the offense with his combination of height and shooting ability.
MU forward Jeremiah Tilmon dunks over UK guard Tyler Herro in the second half of the Missouri vs. Kentucky men's basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri has three players who are precisely 6-foot-10. Two of them play like it.

Junior Jeremiah Tilmon and senior Reed Nikko are both prototypical centers. They post up, block shots and generally fill the role players close to 7 feet have for most of basketball history.

Mitchell Smith breaks that mold. The redshirt junior can play both power forward and center and is a capable shooter, shooting 45% in 2018-19 and knocking down three-pointers at a 41% clip. His versatility could make him a key contributor in coach Cuonzo Martin’s new offense, one focused on spacing and quickness.

“I just feel like I can stretch the floor, especially [with] guys penetrating like Javon Pickett,” Smith said. “He’s a great penetrator, getting to the basket. So when he does that, guys are gonna collapse, so I’m just gonna be on the wing or at the three-point line knocking down shots for us.”

Redshirt junior Dru Smith figures to be one of those four guards in the game at any given time. He was out last season after transferring from the University of Evansville but boasts the flexibility that Martin hopes will allow him to succeed in the new system.

“He’s a complete basketball player,” Martin said. “Can make the three-point shot, a very intelligent player. At [6-foot-3, 6-foot-4] strong, can guard four positions, can make the right play, makes right decisions, makes big shots, can get to the rim.”

Dru Smith doesn’t expect to change the way he plays in the atypical system. Like Mitchell Smith, he is capable from beyond the arc, leading the Missouri Valley Conference in three-point shooting in 2017-18.

“I don’t think it’s too much different,” Dru Smith said. “I think you find your spots. You get into your offenses, and you end up kind of playing, flowing through that.”

Fellow guard Xavier Pinson is accustomed to playing in a system that puts less of an emphasis on a traditional big man, so he doesn’t expect to have to make too much of an adjustment.

“My whole life, I’ve played with four guards and one big, maybe,” he said. “So it’s nothing new to me. But I feel like it gives us the opportunity to open the floor up and push the ball and control the tempo and the pace.”

Two others that don’t foresee changing much about their games are Mitchell Smith’s fellow post players. Nikko and Tilmon both mentioned how nice extra space will be down low with more perimeter players, but don’t expect much else to be different.

“I’m not one through four,” Nikko said. “I’m a five, so it doesn’t really change my job too much. Our job as players is to go execute the game plan coach puts forward, and that’s what his plan is.”

Smaller, more malleable lineups have become commonplace in the NBA, where post-ups have become few and far between while the rate of three-pointers taken and made has been steadily rising for the better part of a decade.

The idea hasn’t taken off in the same way at the college level, but that hasn’t deterred Martin.

“I just think that’s who we are,” Martin said.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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