Kansas State officially announced the addition of 6’5”, 200 pound Missouri graduate transfer guard/wing Mark Smith to the 2021/2022 season.
The news on Smith broke a few days ago, and I’ve been doing a little digging to try and find out exactly what the Wildcats are adding in Mr. Smith.
As a Recruit
Smith was a composite 4*, Top 100 player coming out of Edwardsville, Illinois. He was named Illinois Mr. Basketball, Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, and the Champaign-New Gazette Illinois Player of the Year, and First-team All-State after averaging 21.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.1 steals his senior season.
He held offers from Michigan State, Indiana, Kansas State, and Ohio State, but decided to stay in Illinois and play for then new Illinois coach Brad Underwood. He was the top rated recruit in Underwood’s first recruiting class in Champaign.
Things didn’t go according to plan with the Fighting Illini. I know most people don’t remember Brad Underwood’s first few seasons coaching Illinois, but they were bad...like laughably bad. They ran a weird, frenetic defense that hemorrhaged points, and the offense was disjointed at best.
Smith started 19 games as a true freshman, but his minutes dwindled during conference play once Trent Frazier established himself as Illinois primary ball handler, and Smith was bumped out to the wing. To compound his frustration, he was hospitalized with the flu mid season, setting him back physically.
He averaged 19.1 minutes a game and contributed 5.8 points, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 rebounds as a freshman. He decided to transfer out of Illinois in search of a system that better fit his skill set. Kansas State and Bruce Weber made another run at him, but when Missouri hired Cuonzo Martin, Smith decided to throw his lot in with the Tigers.
It was originally thought he would have to sit a year before suiting up for his new team, but he received a waiver and was allowed to play for Missouri in the 18/19 season. He appeared in 19 games, started 16 and averaged 28.4 minutes a contest. He was putting together a stellar Sophomore season, averaging 11.4 points, 1.6 assists, and 5.2 rebounds and was shooting an impressive 45% from beyond the arc, as a high volume shooter, before an ankle injury that required surgery ended his season in mid-February.
His play leveled off as a junior. He appeared in 24 games, started 20 games, and averaged 10 points, 3.9 rebounds, and .8 assists, including a still impressive (but not otherworldly) 37% from deep. One thing to keep in mind is that Missouri as a team, struggled on offense in 19/20. Smith was still 3rd leading scorer on the team. He played the role of wing 3-point specialist for the Tigers, and he let it fly without a conscious (in terms of Missouri’s slowed down approach). He attempted 143 3’s and cashed in on 53 of them, which was first on the team in both makes and attempts by a wide margin.
I’m not sure you can classify Smith’s senior campaign in Columbia as anything other than a disappointment. He started 24/26 games and averaged 29.6 minutes per contest, but his numbers were down across the board. He averaged 9.7 points, 1 assist, and 3.2 rebounds. More concerning his 3-point shooting percentage dipped to 31%.
At the same point, as I mentioned before, his 3-point percentage doesn’t tell the entire story. A couple dreadful shooting nights sent his overall numbers plummeting, when on a game to game basis, he was still pretty good. He went 1/8 against Alabama, 0/6 against LSU, and 0/5 against Arkansas. At the same time, he went 3/5 vs USC, 3/6 vs Ole Miss, 4/8 vs Liberty, and finished the year strong with a 3/5 effort against Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
Don’t let the numbers fool you. Mark Smith can shoot the basketball.
What to Expect From Smith Next Season
If I were a betting man, I would wager heavily on Mark averaging around 10 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist next season. He’ll shoot somewhere between 35-40% from deep and play solid defense. That’s pretty much who he has been throughout his college and I wouldn’t expect a huge variance in those numbers one way or another.
While I don’t think Smith will be “star” for the Wildcats, he brings a skill set that otherwise doesn’t exist (unless Luke Kasubke finds the shooting stroke he lost between high school and college) on the roster. He’s a tall, physical wing who can shoot. If Kansas State is looking to spread the floor for Bradford, a guard trio of Pack, McGuirl and Smith will get the job done. While Smith struggled in a few games last year, he’s still a guy that other teams will respect from 3.
One possible wrinkle you could see (focus on the could...notice I don’t say will) is Weber utilizing the 6’5, 220 pound wind with rebounding ability at the power forward spot on occasion to really stretch the floor. Bruce was forced into that type of lineup against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, and I liked the results. Putting an actual shooter in one of the corners could make it that much more effective.
Finally, there shouldn’t be a huge adjustment in terms of playing style from Missouri to Kansas State. Cuonzo Martin and Bruce both come from the Gene Keady coaching tree, and run similar systems. In fact, Bruce was the lead assistant for Keady when Cuonzo played for the Boilermakers. There’s are reason why they were both after Smith both as a high school recruit and again as a transfer when he left Illinois. I expect there won’t be a huge learning curve, which is important for a guy Kansas State needs to hit the ground running.
This pick up fits the “build around a core group of players” formula. If Nijel Pack, Davion Bradford, and to some extent Selton Miguel, are going to the core for the Wildcats moving forward, adding an experienced wing shooter capable of playing the 2 and 3 (and possibly 4) makes sense. While I don’t think he’s an upgrade from DaJuan Gordon in terms of overall talent, he is an upgrade in terms of fit.
Kansas State is an improved team with Mark Smith on the roster.
The question is...how improved?
I suppose we’ll have to wait a bit to find out the answer.