SEC Transition Basketball: Missouri TigersPosted by EMoyer on July 16th, 2012
It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Missouri.
State of the Program
The Tigers come to the SEC off a 30-5 season and a Big 12 Tournament title. Only two players who saw the court during any of the 2011-12 season return, but this team features a veteran roster loaded with transfers from high-level Division I programs. Guards Michael Dixon, Jr., and Phil Pressey headline one of the top returning backcourts in all the land. Dixon excelled in a reserve role last season, averaging 13.5 points per game despite never starting. No player in the country, including No.4 NBA Draft selection Dion Waiters, averaged as many points per game off the bench. Pressey experienced no “sophomore slump” as he set the school’s single-season assist record and became a Bob Cousy Award finalist.
Senior Laurence Bowers returns to the active roster after sitting out last season because of a torn ACL. In his prior season on the court, he averaged more than 11 points and six rebounds and close to two blocks per game. He ranks fourth on the school’s all-time blocks list and needs just 27 to move in the second spot.
Leading the Tigers will be Frank Haith. The unpopular hire silenced most if not every critic by winning his first 14 games as the head coach in Columbia. A home win against Kansas helped build the credibility of the former Miami (FL) coach. He won the AP’s Big 12 Coach of the Year and added the District VI Coach of the Year (as awarded by the USBWA) and won a pair of National Coach of the Year honors: from the USBWA and Associated Press.
While Missouri signed five players in the fall recruiting season, the Tigers recovered most of its depth by landing five transfers who will be eligible this season. Three of those — Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Danny Feldmann — sat out last season and become eligible right away. Bell transferred from Pepperdine where he averaged 16.4 points per game over his three-year career. Ross averaged 13.1 points per game as a sophomore at Auburn before leaving after the 2010-11 season. Feldmann returns to Missouri (he attended high school in Jefferson City) after a season at Columbia.
Former five-star recruit and (briefly) Oregon Duck Jabari Brown will be eligible after the fall semester ends. In April, the Tigers benefited from the academic issues at Connecticut as they also landed Alex Oriakhi. Oriakhi has averaged close to seven points and seven rebounds in three years at UConn. He does not have to follow the transfer rules and like Bell, Feldman and Ross, will be at Haith’s disposal from day one.
Haith brought in four freshmen and one junior college transfer during the November signing period. He plucked a pair of Canadian teammates, Negus Webster-Chan and Stefan Jankovic. The pair came from Ontario and played prep ball at Huntington (WV) Prep. Webster-Chan – a 6’7″ guard - averaged 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game while Jankovic – a 6’11″ forward – averaged 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per contest. They signed another guard, Dominique Bull, from Worcester, Massachusetts.
Up front, the Tigers signed Ryan Rosburg, a 6’10″ forward from Chesterfield, Missouri, to further upgrade the frontcourt. He scored more than 1,600 points and set school career records for rebounds and blocked shots in high school. Lastly, they inked the 6’9″ Tony Criswell out of the junior college ranks. Criswell started at UAB where he played in 21 games at a redshirt freshman. He spent one year at Independence Community College where he averaged better than 11 points and six rebounds per game.
With only one year in Columbia available to him, Keion Bell will have to make an immediate impact if he wants to become a breakout player for Missouri. He comes with great scoring credentials. He totaled five games in which he scored at least 30 points in a game over his three years in Pepperdine. He scored 1,365 points, good for 17th on the school’s all-time list. In limited activity against ranked opponents (just five instances in three seasons), he averaged 19.6 points and 7.8 rebounds with three double-doubles. He hit for a career-best 37 points on 14-for-21 shooting against No. 15 Gonzaga back in January 2010.
Beyond the scoring, he comes to Missouri with an impressive highlight reel of dunks available on YouTube. Message board posters have hyped him as the the first great Tiger dunker since Rickey Paulding. Whether its completing a dunk over seven people or just messing around after a Tiger practice, Bell could make quite an impact in the Mizzou backcourt.
Three Questions With Gabe DeArmond, PowerMizzou.com Publisher
RTC: For the first time since 1989, Mizzou had two players picked in the NBA Draft (Kim English/Marcus Denmon). Throw in the graduations of Ricardo Ratliffe, Steve Moore and Matt Pressey and year two of the Frank Haith era will take on a completely different look from year one. Who do you foresee becoming the top option on offense?
GD: The top scorer is likely to be either Mike Dixon or Laurence Bowers, although I wouldn’t rule out Auburn transfer Earnest Ross, who some said would have been the best player on the team last year. But make no mistake, this offense runs through Phil Pressey. He’s rarely going to lead the team in scoring, but he’s the guy that makes the whole thing go. Everything Missouri does comes off of him. When he got trigger happy and wasn’t shooting well (see two games against Kansas State), Missouri looked real ordinary on offense. When he was running his game, they were one of the best offensive teams in the country. Bowers and Alex Oriakhi have a chance to put up numbers similar to or better than what Ratliffe did due to Pressey.
RTC: With the move to the SEC, the Tigers lost century-old rivalries. However, it appears apparent that the new rival will be Arkansas, led by former Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson. With the creativity of The Antlers, what kind of reception do you predict he will receive and secondly, how will the build-up of that first game in Columbia compare to some of Mizzou’s biggest games of late?
GD: The reception is going to be similar to the one Robinson Cano got at Kauffman Stadium after telling the Royals fans he’d take Billy Butler on the home run team then not doing it. There are some similarities there in the way Anderson got angry at anyone who asked about the Arkansas job, swore he would retire at Mizzou and then bolted. There will come a time when fans are able to step back and look at it and realize that Mike Anderson did far more good for Missouri basketball than harm. But the way he left and the fact that he left the cupboard completely bare (the most underrated thing about the job Haith has done is how he balanced out the classes within about 15 months by taking jucos, transfers and high school players in the right balance), that time isn’t here yet. Denmon and English have both told me if they could go to only one game, that’s the game they’d go to. In fact, including football, if I had money to afford only one ticket to one Missouri sporting event next year, it would be the Arkansas hoops game in Columbia. Arkansas basketball won’t ever be as hated as Kansas basketball for Missouri fans. But the rivalry is going to be a lot of fun and the atmosphere is going to match just about any I’ve seen in the last few years I think. Add to that that the Tigers ought to be pretty good next year and it’s a nice recipe.
RTC: Which was the most extreme high/low? The win vs Kansas, the loss vs Kansas, the Big 12 Tournament Title or the loss the Norfolk State?
GD: There’s no doubt it was the loss to Norfolk State. I mean, it’s over after that. After all the other stuff, you always knew there was another day to play. After the loss to Norfolk, there was no more. A senior class that had done so much for this program was done and it was done in a way that nobody other than Kyle O’Quinn ever really thought possible. It doesn’t negate everything that happened during the season, but it did take some shine off. The fact is, if you want it to be remembered as a great season, it can’t end the way that one did. I’d say the season will go down as a really, really good season that came completely out of nowhere and ended horribly. The two games against Kansas were phenomenal and, in my opinion, a perfect way to send that rivalry into hibernation. The Big 12 Tourney is what the optimists will choose to remember. But the fact is, when people talk about that Missouri team five, 10, 20 years from now, it’s going to start with Norfolk State.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
In many ways its a year of transition for #Mizzou…new league…new rivals…10 new players…expect an upper echelon SEC finish + NCAA bid
Eric Moyer is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @ericdmoyer.