COLUMBIA, Mo. — There’s been a whirlwind of news surrounding Mizzou athletics since the new year. Whether it’s personnel changes at Mizzou football, anguish for Mizzou basketball fans or new transfers, this recap will break down all of the news surrounding Tigers athletics from throughout the last two weeks.
Link, Smith take on additional roles amid changing coaching landscape
SMU offensive coordinator Casey Woods was the first assistant under Eliah Drinkwitz to leave the program this offseason, but secondary coach Aaron Fletcher is reportedly joining him. After just one season in Columbia, Fletcher will become the defensive backs coach at Arizona State.
Fletcher’s departure is a tough blow for the Tigers, considering his work in bringing Tulsa transfers Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV to Mizzou last season. He also was the primary recruiter of 2022 signee Marcus Scott, who is from Fletcher’s home state of Texas and flipped from a prior commitment to LSU.
The Tigers will now look to replace Fletcher in the coming weeks, one of two vacant on-field assistant spots on Drinkwitz’s staff. Earlier last week, former associate head coach Charlie Harbison announced he would be stepping into a non-coaching role to free up time to tend to personal matters. Harbison also oversaw defensive backs, leaving the Mizzou secondary’s coaching situation in dire need.
Drinkwitz delegated Woods’ former roles to current assistants. Special teams coordinator Erik Link will also be the tight ends coach, while linebackers coach D.J. Smith is also the Tigers’ recruiting coordinator.
On the defensive line, Drinkwitz officially shedded Al Davis’ interim tag, but he also hired former Indiana defensive line coach Kevin Peoples to team up with Davis. Peoples, who has spent almost 30 years coaching, will serve as the defensive line edge coach, and Davis will handle interior defensive line coaching duties. The Indiana defensive line finished last in the Big 10 in sacks per game last season after leading the conference in sacks in 2020.
Wingo transfers after stellar freshman season, Tigers pick up multiple players from portal
After a 27-tackle freshman season, Mekhi Wingo announced his intentions to enter the transfer portal this past week. The All-SEC Freshman Team honoree posted a sack against Central Michigan and a pick-six against North Texas, and his departure came as a surprise to many Tigers fans who expected Wingo to be an integral part of the Tigers’ defensive line for years to come.
Wingo announced a top-four schools list of LSU, Arkansas, USC and Oklahoma, just a few of the schools who immediately offered him upon his entry to the portal. Former Mizzou defensive back Robert Steeples, Wingo’s old head coach at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis, was recently added to LSU’s coaching staff as a defensive assistant.
However, the Tigers have used the transfer portal to their advantage as well, securing commitments from former Buffalo center Bence Polgar, former Oklahoma State defensive lineman Jayden Jernigan and former Texas A&M cornerback Dreyden Norwood.
Polgar started in 11 of Buffalo’s 12 games this past season, contributing to a unit that finished inside the top 20 in sacks allowed per game among FBS programs. At 6’3” and 290 pounds, the New Jersey native profiles similarly to Michael Maietti, another Jersey boy who transferred to the Tigers after spending four years as a center at Rutgers. Polgar will compete under Marcus Johnson’s guidance to see if he can make an impact and potentially fill the void left by NFL Draft-bound Maietti. He has three years of eligibility.
Jernigan also has extensive on-field experience and played significant snaps as a true freshman defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Jernigan is 6’1” and 285 pounds, and even though he did not play in 2020, he has posted 35 career tackles and four sacks. Jernigan went to Allen High School in Texas, where he played with fellow Tigers EJ Ndoma-Ogar and Devyn Butler.
Norwood adds depth to the cornerback position, one of the Tigers’ thinnest, after leaving the Aggies after just one season in which he never saw the field. He is listed as 6’0” and 180 pounds, and his high school tape shows a lot of offensive production as a quarterback and athlete for Northside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas. His development is going to be reliant on whoever Drinkwitz and the Tigers choose to coach the defensive backs group ahead of next season.
Tigers men’s basketball suffers worst defeat in Cuonzo Martin era to Arkansas on Wednesday
After defeating a ranked Alabama team 92-86 at home last Saturday, Tigers fans hoped the win signaled a turn-of-the-page on what’s been a tough season. Instead, Missouri turned in an 87-43 loss to Arkansas in Fayetteville, the worst loss in head coach Cuonzo Martin’s collegiate coaching career. The Tigers only scored one basket in the first nine minutes of the game, trailing 49-15 at halftime
That still isn’t the least amount of points the Tigers scored in a half this season, as they only scored 14 points in the first half of their 66-45 loss at Liberty in December. This loss to the Razorbacks marks the sixth time Missouri lost by more than 20 points this season.
Under Martin, the Tigers are 8-21 in midweek SEC games, and only two of those wins came on the road. It’s been a struggle at both ends of the floor for the Tigers, who still haven’t found an identity outside of Kobe Brown’s takeover moments and inconsistent success at driving the basketball.
Martin acknowledged his team was out-physicaled by the Razorbacks.
“I think it’s safe to say I didn’t see that coming,” Martin said, “but give those guys credit for playing well from start to finish. [They] had a different, probably unique lineup for them, really more 3s and 4s on the floor outside of [JD] Notae as a point guard, and it worked out well for them. And I think they were able to set a physical tone, and we couldn’t recover from that.”
The Tigers committed a season-high 23 turnovers and shot the ball at .313 effective field goal percentage. Shooting the ball has been a primary deterrent this season, as the Tigers rank 357th out of 358 Division 1 teams with a 24.7% three-point rate and 323rd with a 40.4% total field goal rate. But it’s not just offense that the Tigers lack: they rank 337th in 3PT% allowed to opponents (37.2%) and 317th in total field goal percentage allowed (45.9%).
Unsurprisingly, ranking below 300 other D1 teams in both field goal percentage and field goal percentage allowed hasn’t been a recipe for success for the 7-8 Tigers, who next take the floor on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena against Texas A&M. The Aggies are 14-2 this season and are 3-0 in SEC play, giving the Tigers another big challenge in what’s been a stacked start to conference play.
There have been flashes from Brown, Javon Pickett and some of the freshmen, notably Trevon Brazile, who has made some highlight plays on both ends of the floor as a solid wing. But, when a 12-man roster is made up of five freshmen, four transfers and a returner who no longer gets double-digit minutes (Jordan Wilmore), it’s hard to expect success.
In fairness, all four transfers have shown capable play at times, but they’ve also not lived up to their scoring efficiency in previous years. Only DaJuan Gordon has improved his 3PT efficiency from last season, and he’s still only shooting 25.5% from beyond the arc. It’s becoming glaringly clear that the others are struggling to adjust to SEC competition after jumping up from the mid-major level, and Martin will need to do some serious recruiting to save what’s looking like a sinking ship in Columbia.
Mizzou commit Aidan Shaw, out of Blue Valley High School in Kansas City, received a McDonald’s All-American nominee for his play this year, but he and East St. Louis’ Christian Jones are the only 2022 commits thus far. Both are talented players and good gets for Martin, but it would be nice to see more dedication on the recruiting trail from the staff considering how much turnover there was from last season. The Tigers returned less than 20% of their total minutes from last season, good for 4th-least in Division 1.
It’s hard to find much rhyme or reason with Mizzou men’s basketball right now, but seeing the transfers and freshmen improve as SEC play continues would at least partially salvage what is becoming a lost season for the Tigers.
Mizzou women’s hoops suffers 85-83 OT loss to No. 12 LSU
For everything Mizzou men’s hoops hasn’t been this season, the women’s team is making up for it, putting together an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume with some occasional hiccups. The Tigers’ loss to LSU makes it two straight dropped SEC games for Missouri, who lost 83-73 to Arkansas last Sunday.
Arguably the biggest loss, though, from the Arkansas game was LaDazhia Williams, who suffered a groin injury against the Razorbacks and did not play against LSU. She’d been recovering from a knee injury throughout the season, but she still has been a vital inside presence for a team that’s got the ability to score at all three levels.
The NCAA’s leading rebounder, junior guard Aijha Blackwell, posted 26 points and 16 rebounds against first-year head coach Kim Mulkey’s Tigers, but she fouled out during overtime and wasn’t on the floor for the final possessions of the game.
Robin Pingeton’s team is really putting the pieces together, though. With Blackwell and Williams being aggressive in the paint, the Tigers’ perimeter offense is one of the best in women’s college basketball. They’re 13th in the nation in three-point shooting (37.57%) and seventh in total field goal percentage (47.34%), as forward Hayley Frank and guard Lauren Hansen are one of the most lethal sharpshooting duos in the SEC. Mama Dembele, Haley Troup and Izzy Higginbottom round out a guard group that is proving itself to be effective at this point in the season, all deserving of big playing time.
Realistically, if the Tigers are making shots, they can contend with anyone in the country, as demonstrated by their overtime win over No. 1 South Carolina just a couple of weeks ago. But, they’ll need Williams to be healthy moving forward if they want to earn a top seed in the SEC Tournament, as the nation’s toughest women’s basketball conference isn’t going to lend them any forgiveness. Missouri hosts No. 14 Georgia on Monday night at 6 p.m.