COLUMBIA — Though it's so far been a quiet offseason within the Missouri men's basketball program, changes made by the NCAA this summer will affect the way the game is played and make obtaining a waiver for transfers seeking immediate eligibility at a new school more difficult across all sports.
Those restrictions only apply to Division-I athletes transferring to D-I programs, so Axel Okongo, the seven-foot big man from Northwest Junior College in Powell, Wyo., will be unaffected.
Cuonzo Martin, speaking on a league-wide Southeastern Conference call of head coaches Thursday, said Okongo is not yet with the program as he finishes up a class. Martin expects Okongo to join the team in late July or early August.
"He has one year of eligibility remaining, we're working on two," Martin said.
But the transfer waiver restrictions could impact several other programs in the SEC. South Carolina, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and others have added non-graduate transfers that may or may not have waivers granted by the NCAA.
The new rules clarify and tighten the burden of proof on the athlete and new school in cases where that individual has been 'run off,' is transferring to be closer to a sick or injured family member or loved one, or because of a personal injury or illness or in cases where the athlete "is the victim of egregious behavior directly impacting his or her health, safety or well-being."
More transfer requests could start to look like Dru Smith's as the NCAA tries to rein in what many coaches deride as 'free agency.' Smith transferred from Evansville to Missouri after the end of the 2017-18 season, but Evansville did not cooperate with the waiver process, which forced Smith to sit the following season.
Seventh Woods (North Carolina to South Carolina), Jahvon Quinnerly (Villanova to Alabama), D.J. Harvey (Notre Dame to Vanderbilt) and Victor Bailey (Oregon to Tennessee) are all either sitting out the upcoming season or are awaiting judgment from the NCAA on waiver applications.
The NCAA also approved a set of rule changes in early June, electing to move back the 3-point line from 20 feet, nine inches, adopted in 2008, to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 inches.
The NIT experimented with the longer distance for the 2018 and 2019 postseasons, and the NCAA's stated goals for moving the line back include:
Making the lane more available for dribble/drive plays from the perimeter.
Slowing the trend of the 3-point shot becoming too prevalent in men's college basketball by making the shot a bit more challenging, while at the same time keeping the shot an integral part of the game.
Assisting in offensive spacing by requiring the defense to cover more of the court.
Starting in the 2019-20 season, an offensive rebound will reset the shot clock to 20 seconds, rather than 35, and instant replay will be used to examine basket interference or goal tending within the final two minutes of the second half or final two minutes of overtime.
This will likely impact how Missouri runs its offense this season. The Tigers have two of the conference's best returning 3-point shooters in Mark Smith (45 percent), who has almost fully recovered from a foot injury that held him out of 13 of the team's final 15 games, and Xavier Pinson (40 percent). Dru Smith was a career 42 percent shooter on 3s in two seasons at Evansville, and shot 49.1 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season before electing to transfer.
Missouri's 2017-18 from beyond the arc, led by Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett, made 306-of-799 3s, both top-5 marks in program history, a percentage of 38.3 that was just outside the top-5 marks. The Tigers stepped back from the deep ball a little this past season, shooting 264-for-727 (36.3 percent), and the rule change might push Martin's offense further in that direction.
The roster of guards is also well-suited to attacking the rim, as Pinson, Torrence Watson, Javon Pickett, Dru Smith and incoming freshman Mario McKinney have all showed the bounce and athleticism to finish off dribble-drives. Add in Jeremiah Tilmon, Okongo (who, again, is seven feet tall), Tray Jackson and Kobe Brown, and a spread floor pick-and-roll, with even more spacing provided thanks to the expanded 3-point line, could create as many drives and lobs as open 3s.