Big 12 Team Previews: Missouri TigersPosted by dnspewak on November 9th, 2011
Predicted finish: 5th
2010-11 Record: 23-11, 8-8 (5th, Big 12)
Head coach: Frank Haith, first season
Key losses: Justin Safford (6.4 PPG), Ricky Kreklow (2.1 PPG), Laurence Bowers- (11.6 PPG, injury)
It’s amazing the Missouri Tigers are still standing. After experiencing one of the roughest offseasons in recent memory, it’s a wonder MU didn’t simply fold its basketball program up and leave it for dead. First, in March, head coach Mike Anderson left for Arkansas, just weeks after telling a local sportswriter he planned to retire in Columbia (Firestorm #1). Then, several reporters erroneously reported this spring that athletic director Mike Alden had hired Purdue’s Matt Painter (Firestorm #2); when that didn’t materialize, Alden announced the hiring of Frank Haith, a coach who had gone 43-69 in ACC play at Miami (Firestorm #3). Later in the summer, a Yahoo! Sports investigation of the Hurricanes’ athletic programs accused Haith’s staff of paying $10,000 to a recruit (Firestorm #4), and there’s still no closure on that case. And, last but not least, starting forward Laurence Bowers tore his ACL this fall (Firestorm #5). He’s out for the season. After all that, Missouri is still ranked #25 in the preseason polls. That’s because the Tigers bring back a veteran group, headlined by terrific guard play and Big 12 Player of the Year candidate Marcus Denmon.
The Stars: It’s rare to find a star like Denmon. He’s one of the nation’s top three-point shooters and can score almost at will, but he’s sometimes criticized for playing too unselfishly. That’s part of his game, though. Denmon rarely forces a bad shot, but when he does, it usually goes in. He scores within the flow of the offense, he passes well, he plays tough defense, he rebounds in traffic, and he hustles his tail off. It’s almost as if Denmon is a star with a role player’s attitude, and that’s exactly the way Frank Haith would prefer it. This team feeds off Denmon’s work ethic and leadership, and his 16.9 PPG and 44.8% from three-point land doesn’t hurt, either.
The Veterans: Missouri’s two points guards, sophomore Phil Pressey and junior Michael Dixon, both split time under Mike Anderson last season. They’ll still compete against each other for playing time, but don’t expect either to find himself left out of the rotation. Plus, with Bowers out, they’ll play together a lot more as well. Dixon is more of a combo-guard type, as he’s more of a scorer first. Pressey, on the other hand, is a dynamic passer and a sparkplug at the point guard position. Last season, both players had to find their way as young, inexperienced players, but this position could be a big plus for MU in 2011-12.
Senior Kim English also returns, and he may slide into the power forward role with Bowers out. He’s not a bruiser by any means, so he’ll basically play as an extra guard, but MU could really use a better year out of him. As one of the most outspoken players on the team, English often finds his quotes in the newspaper, and that brought extra criticism as he struggled through his junior campaign. English still has a nice three-point stroke, and his defense has come a long way during the past three years.
Up front, Haith is hoping for a big year out of senior Ricardo Ratliffe. He had a productive junior year under Anderson, but Haith’s emphasis on getting the ball inside and the pick-and-roll could help him tremendously in a halfcourt setting. Ratliffe, a chiseled, hyper-athletic forward with good fundamentals and a knack for rebounding, is by far Missouri’s top option in the frontcourt. He may also be the Tigers’ most important player overall.
Senior Steve Moore will also see increased playing time because of the Bowers’ injury. He’s a fan favorite for his all-out effort and defensive skills, but he’ll be pushed into a new role this season. Fellow senior Matt Pressey is also a valuable role player, as he always seems to come up with an important steal or rebound.
The Newbies: Redshirt freshman Kadeem Green is the only new face on the roster. With his long wingspan, Green offers help to this thin Missouri frontcourt. Ready or not, he will be forced to play big minutes as a reserve this year.
Breakout Candidate: Pressey is a star in the making, and it’s obvious to anyone who’s watched him play even a minute of basketball. Pressey could very well lead the Big 12 in assists one day. He has a gift for finding open teammates and making spectacular passes. As long as he matures as a player and plays more under control, Pressey could thrive in Haith’s NBA-style offense.
Why They’re Better Than You Think: These Tigers are quick, fast and athletic, and they have possibly the strongest guard play in the league. They played under Mike Anderson, after all. With Denmon in the fold and the Pressey/Dixon point guard duo, a big year out of Ratliffe might be all the Tigers need to win the Big 12.
Points of Concern: Without Bowers, this team has very little depth up front. Ratliffe is a fine option, but he can’t be your only inside scoring threat. Moore and Green probably aren’t ready for prime-time as starters yet, and although Haith plans to employ a four-guard lineup with English, this team is simply in dire need of size. Also, Haith obviously did not have a successful track record at Miami, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how his new team will respond to his coaching style.