Key Departures: Cade Cunningham (NBA);
New In Town: Moussa Cisse (<–Memphis); Bryce Thompson (<–Kansas); Tyreek Smith (<–Texas Tech); Woody Newton (<–Syracuse)
State of the Program:
The arrival of Cade Cunningham put the Cowboys on the National stage, and they were an incredibly entertaining watch all season long. The young group ultimately fell short in March, bowing out in the 2nd round falling victim to a criminally underrated Pac-12 team as many other teams did a year ago. Mike Boynton has come in and successfully implemented a run and gun game, focused on high pressure defense and letting his young athletes run. They were 24th in tempo a season ago and 17th in overall defensive efficiency, a combination only accomplished by the likes of Gonzaga, Alabama, and Arkansas last season. My favorite of the many styles of play in college basketball is what Boynton has rolled out, the high pressure defense that can lock you down while playing at a frenetic pace offensively. It’s not easy to instill, but Boynton seems to have gotten the athletes required, and brings back every rotation piece aside from the #1 overall pick Cunningham. That returning core includes returning starters Avery Anderson (JR), Isaac Likekele (SR), Bryce Williams (SR), and Kalib Boone (JR), along with key role players Rondel Walker (SO), Keylan Boone (JR), and M.A. Moncrieffe (SO). The loss of Cunningham is huge, but Avery Anderson was lying in waiting as he served as a Robin to Cade’s Batman a year ago, and averaged nearly 17 ppg over the last 10 games. He will become the go to guy for the Pokes, and with a couple of incoming transfers to add to the depth the expectations are sky high once again for this program.
The best of this class of only transfers is 6’10” C from Memphis Moussa Cisse (SO). Cisse was a 5-star in last year’s recruiting class and started every game for Memphis, but saw his minutes and role wane as the season went along. He has great strength and athleticism, and is a traditional big man the likes of Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn. This is a big pickup for Boynton as one of the bigger weaknesses a season ago was on the glass and blocking shots. Cisse will fill that role at the 5 and be very important for a defense that wants to get out and pressure. The next guy arriving who will have a role is Kansas transfer 6’5” Bryce Thompson (SO). Thompson was also a 5-star recruit in last year’s class, coming in as an elite scorer that was really never able to break through the deep Kansas backcourt last season. He enters another deep backcourt with Oklahoma St, but should get more run, especially if he can knock down jump shots, something these Cowboy guards struggled to do a year ago. 6’8” F Tyreek Smith (SO) comes in out of Texas Tech as a less highly touted recruit but fits the mold of a very athletic and springy forward that Boynton is going after. He will be buried behind the Boone brothers, Moncrieffe and Cisse this season, but if he sticks around his time will come. Woody Newton (SO) is the last transfer coming in and has similar physical traits as Smith, but can stretch out and shoot a little better than Smith. Newton has a chance to develop as a 3 and D prospect and be an impact player in the future for the Cowboys.
While I love where Boynton has this program trending, there were a couple of glaring weakness a year ago that were somewhat masked by the presence of Cunningham, 3 point shooting and rebounding. Cunningham was the best perimeter shooter, and they now have nobody that consistently made outside shots a year ago, and Cade averaged 6+ rpg. The addition of Cisse will help lock down the middle a little more, and an anchor like him could even help them defensively. What they did not address was the lack of outside shooting. The group of Anderson, Likekele, Williams, Walker, and Thompson will need to show improvements from outside or this offense could be pretty bad. Last season they finished 60th overall in offensive efficiency, and that was with Cunningham contributing 20+ ppg. In their 2nd round loss to Oregon St they shot 8-29 (27%) from outside, and guys not named Cunningham were 4-18 (22%). All of these are bad signs, and while improvements could certainly be made, especially with Anderson, Walker and Thompson, the offense has a shot to regress this season. They will need to lean into their defense and transition game in order to get easy looks. It will be an ugly style of play this year for the Cowboys but their style and intense defense should keep them competitive. I think the lack of outside shooting severely limits their ceiling, but a tournament berth should still be on the table when all is said and done.