Dennis Gates’ inaugural season in Columbia proved to be one to remember. After going 12-21 just two seasons ago, Missouri has experienced a remarkable transformation. The team achieved a sold-out stadium for home games, reached the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals, and secured a victory in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
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The Tigers are projected to finish ninth in the SEC, as predicted by Sports Illustrated for the upcoming season. There is no doubt that this year will bring a different outlook. MU lost its two stars from the previous season, Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge, to the NBA. Nevertheless, Coach Gates’ team has undergone significant changes, with new additions and the retention of key role players. Let’s take a closer look at the notable newcomers and returners on Missouri’s roster:
Caleb Grill, Guard (Iowa State Transfer)
Caleb Grill’s addition to the Tigers’ backcourt is pivotal. The guard averaged 9.5 points per game and shot 39.3% from the field for Iowa State last season before being dismissed from the team in early March. Grill had several standout performances for the Cyclones last year, including a 20-point outing with four steals in their 63-60 victory over Oklahoma in January. The Wichita, Kansas native also contributed 18 points in Iowa State’s 77-62 win over No. 12 Baylor on New Year’s Eve to begin Big 12 play. The former Cyclone also maintained a 36.8 three-point shooting percentage last season. His addition is expected to enhance MU’s perimeter threat.
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Tamar Bates, Guard (Indiana Transfer)
Missouri has also welcomed Indiana transfer Tamar Bates this season. The junior played a crucial role for the Hoosiers over the last two seasons, with NCAA tournament appearances in both years. Bates averaged 6.1 points per game and shot 39.2% from the field for Indiana last season. The former five-star recruit had an inconsistent 2022-2023 season but delivered some key performances. In the Hoosiers’ 82-69 victory over Michigan in January, Bates made 5-of-6 three-point attempts and finished with 17 points. The Kansas City, Kansas native also notched 19 points in Indiana’s win over Kennesaw State last December. Despite this, Bates also had eight games where he scored zero points and had a limited impact for the Hoosiers. The talented guard will hope for a fresh start in Columbia under Coach Gates’ system.
John Tonje, Guard (Colorado State Transfer)
Missouri fans have much to be excited about with the addition of John Tonje to the backcourt. The 6’6”, 215 lb guard arrives from Colorado State, where he averaged 14.6 points and 4.7 rebounds a season ago, shooting at an impressive 47.3% from the field for the Rams. In his senior campaign, the fifth-year player showcased multiple strong performances. In Colorado State’s 84-71 victory over Wyoming in February, Tonje scored 25 points and had six rebounds. He also recorded 24 points and five rebounds in the Rams’ victory over New Mexico to conclude the regular season. The Colorado State transfer is expected to bolster scoring depth and backcourt strength, thanks to his solid rebounding skills.
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Connor Vanover, Center (Oral Roberts Transfer)
After lacking size in the paint last season, Coach Gates was able to pick up seven-foot-five center Connor Vanover from the transfer portal. He is making his fourth stop in his college career, having played for California, Arkansas, and Oral Roberts respectively. Vanover’s impact was substantial for the Golden Eagles, helping them clinch the Summit League championship last season while averaging 12.7 points per game and 7.2 rebounds. In the Golden Eagles’ 73-64 January victory over Omaha, he recorded a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, he was named Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Summit League First Team for the 2022-2023 season. The addition of Vanover’s addition promises to provide size and strength to Missouri’s interior.
Curt Lewis, Guard (JUCO)
Gates and his staff also secured the signing of Curt Lewis from John A. Logan College this offseason. Lewis was honored as the 2022-2023 NJCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Player of the Year. The guard led John A. Logan to its first national championship in program history. Before his year in junior college, Lewis spent two seasons with Eastern Kentucky. The 6’5”, 215 lb guard will aim to integrate quickly into Mizzou’s system as he seeks to make an impact in the SEC.
Jordan Butler, Center (Four-Star Recruit)
Four-star center Jordan Butler is expected to make an immediate impact for the Tigers. He committed to the team last October, boasting impressive stats from his senior season for Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, South Carolina. The seven-footer averaged 21.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks and won two state championships for his high school. Butler was ranked as 18th-best center in the Class of 2023, making him the second-highest-ranked recruit in South Carolina, according to 247Sports. It won’t be surprising to see Butler receive substantial playing time in his freshman campaign, offering height and length to Missouri’s frontcourt.
Photo Cred: 247 Sports
Nick Honor, Guard
Nick Honor is poised to be one of the leaders for the Tigers this season. The graduate student, entering his final year of eligibility, previously played two seasons at Clemson and one season at Fordham. He redshirted his first season at Clemson due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules. Last season, the guard played a big role in Missouri’s success, averaging 7.9 points and 2.6 assists while shooting 40.3% from the field. He delivered crucial performances for Mizzou, including a 17-point, four-assist game in their 85-63 victory over Georgia. Honor’s game-winning three-pointer with 7.6 seconds remaining in overtime led the Tigers to a victory over Mississippi State in February. The guard will look to expand his role in his final season in Columbia.
Photo Cred: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Noah Carter, Forward
Noah Carter is gearing up to take a more prominent leadership role in his final year of eligibility. He had a solid season in his first year in Columbia, averaging 9.6 points and four rebounds a game. Carter’s performance gained momentum toward the end of the previous season. In MU’s 82-77 victory over Ole Miss, he scored 17 points, including a game-sealing three-point play to close out the Tigers’ regular season. The 6’6”, 235 lb forward also contributed 14 points and four rebounds in Mizzou’s loss to Princeton in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament. Carter will look to pick up where he left off last year as Missouri embarks on its new season on Monday.
Aidan Shaw, Forward
Aidan Shaw is set to play a more significant role in his second season with the Tigers. As a sophomore, he averaged 2.7 points per game and shot 56.3% from the field last year. The former four-star recruit possesses the potential to make a multifaceted impact for the Tigers. In Mizzou’s victory over Ole Miss in February, Shaw contributed six points and five rebounds. He also recorded seven points and two rebounds in Missouri’s thrilling 79-76 win over No. 25 Arkansas in January. The Overland Park, Kansas native appeared in 32 games throughout his freshman campaign, starting twice. This year, he will aim to become a more consistent starter.
Sean East II, Guard
In his second and final year in Columbia, Sean East II will also focus on elevating his game and playing a crucial part for the Tigers. The Louisville, Kentucky native demonstrated his capabilities with a 17-point, four-assist performance in their 86-85 victory over No. 6 Tennessee in Knoxville back in February. The guard also scored 15 points in their 83-74 win over South Carolina at home. Throughout his first year with Missouri, East averaged 7.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Before transferring to MU, the 6’3” guard played at UMass, Bradley, and John A. Logan College, where Lewis played last season. He is expected to be an important asset to Missouri’s talented backcourt in the 2023-2024 season.
Photo Cred: Missouri Athletics
Some Notable Games to Look Out For
Every game on Missouri’s schedule promises excitement for Tigers fans in the upcoming season. However, five games stand out on the calendar as the season approaches next week:
At Pittsburgh (11/28)
MU faces Pittsburgh on the road in the SEC/ACC Men’s Challenge. The Panthers had a strong season at home, losing only three games and defeating Miami, a team that reached the Final Four. A victory in Petersen Events Center would be a big resume booster early in the season, particularly against an ACC program on the road.
At Kansas (12/9)
The Tigers aim to secure their first victory over Kansas since the revival of the Border War rivalry in 2021. MU faced challenging defeats at the hands of the Jayhawks in their last two meetings. With KU being ranked No. 1 in the nation to begin the season, this game is a big rivalry showdown with the potential for an upset in Allen Fieldhouse.
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Vs. Illinois (12/22)
In their annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis, Missouri faces Illinois. The Tigers have won four out of the last five matchups against the Illini, including their most recent victory with a score of 93-71. Illinois will start the season ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 poll. A victory against a talented Big Ten opponent would provide substantial momentum as Mizzou heads into conference play.
Vs. Arkansas (1/31)
Gates’ team has a significant opportunity as they host SEC rival Arkansas in a late January matchup. The Razorbacks enter the season ranked 14th in the nation and were picked to finish third in the SEC. Last season, both matchups between Missouri and Arkansas were thrilling, with each team securing a victory by single digits in their home stadiums. A win over UArk at home is important if MU aims to compete in the SEC.
Vs. Texas A&M (2/7)
One of Missouri’s key SEC games occurs when they host No. 15 Texas A&M in early February. The Tigers were swept by the Aggies last season, including an 18-point loss in the first matchup in College Station, Texas. The game in Columbia marks the second meeting between the two programs this season, as they also face off in late January at Reed Arena. A win over Texas A&M at home is of significant importance this season, as wins against potentially ranked teams hold substantial value.
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