Head coach Mike Anderson starts his fifth season with the Missouri Tigers (23-11, 10-6 Big 12) having gotten the team to the Big Dance two of the last four seasons. In 2009, they went to the Elite Eight and last season the Tigers went two and out. When Anderson took over at Missouri, they had missed the tournament two years running. The Tigers had a long tradition of NCAA Tournament play, having been there a total of 22 times. With their new head coach, they’ve started another string of appearances. This is a team that has gone to the Elite Eight four times. They are still searching for their first National Championship.
Last season the team finished fifth in the Big 12. In the Big 12 Tournament, they were knocked out in game one by Nebraska 86-78. At the Big Dance, they managed an 85-78 win against Clemson before West Virginia eliminated them 68-59. This season, there’s more expected of this Tiger team in both the Big 12 and nationally.
Forward Justin Safford (6-9, 230 lbs., SR, #23, 8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 20.0 mpg, .420 FG, .433 3PT, .758 FT) was having a good season until he tore his ACL late in the year. The senior appears to be healed and ready to play. Safford is a fine inside player who can also pump in points from downtown. On defense, he is a solid shot blocker and on both sides of the court a tough rebounder. This could be a huge season from him.
Junior Laurence Bowers (6-8, 210 lbs., JR, #21, 10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 22.5 mpg, .555 FG, .400 3PT, .651 FT) is an excellent shooter from inside and out and a fine defender, ably utilizing his shot blocking skills. His blocked shot percentage of 6.6% ranked him 115th in the nation. He’s a focused, unrelenting force on the court.
The other guy in the frontcourt will most likely be junior college standout Ricardo Ratliffe. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward is thought by many to be the best JUNCO player in the nation. At Central Florida Community College he averaged 27.4 PPG and 11.3 RPG. But he won’t be eligible to play unless he has completed his junior college coursework by the end of the summer.
The point guard position will feature sophomore Michael Dixon (6-1, 180 lbs., SO, #11, 7.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 16.6 mpg, .470 FG, .355 3PT, .857 FT). Dixon is a good floor general with a steady hand, fine eye and nice quickness. His jump shot and three-point toss both need to improve. Dixon was a decent defender last season, with a steal percentage of 3.3% (171st). Overall, you can expect to see him improve throughout the season.
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There are two quality shooting guards onboard. Marcus Denmon (6-3, 180 lbs., SO, #12, 10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1,4 apg, 21.0 mpg, .429 FG, .407 3PT, .697 FT) and Kim English (6-6, 200 lbs., JR, #24, 14.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, 24.1 mpg, .393 FG, .370 3PT, .725 FT) are both potential starters. Denmom, who was Missouri’s most accurate shooter, needs to develop into a more aggressive player. There are times last season where he seemed to simply checkout. English also brings an explosive shot to the game, but he committed a team high 71 turnovers. If he’s going to see expanded minutes, then he needs to find the handle on the ball.
There are plenty of quality backups who are ready to play. That goes for both the frontcourt and backcourt. At 6-8 and 220 pounds, Tony Mitchell is big enough to play inside. The top 15 recruit is a likely NBA candidate. There is a question regarding his eligibility that must be answered before he can play. There’s also defense and rebounding off the bench via Steve Moore (6-9, 270 lbs., JR, #32, 1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.4 apg, 10.1 mpg, .333 FG, .000 3PT, .750 FT) and John Underwood (6-9, 228 lbs., SO, #35, 0.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 3.7 mpg, .125 FG, .000 3PT, .583 FT). Although neither is a very good shot, they are both valuable role players.
The backcourt is exceedingly rich with backups. Junior Matt Pressy and freshman Phil Pressy, the sons of former NBA player Paul Pressy, will see action immediately. Phil Pressy is thought to have exceptional potential at point guard The playmaker stands only 5-10 but brings a high level of quickness to the floor. Brother Matt Pressy, who was a junior college All-American, offers intangibles that will help keep the team on an even keel.
The Missouri offense had an efficiency mark of 111.3, ranking them 43rd nationally. However, their effective field goal percentage stood at 50.1% (102nd). They hit just 47.6% (177th) of their twos, but knocked down 36.8% (63rd) of their threes and 72.4% (54th) of their free throws. Despite a decent free throw grade, the team earned just 19.7% of their points from the charity stripe, placing them 246th nationally. More trips to the foul line could certainly help this team score more from the line. Another problem was rebounding on offense. The Tigers allowed opponents too much leeway when it came to taking away their second shots.
The defense allowed 66.7 PPG and earned an efficiency grade of 88.8 (13th). The Tigers were third in the country in turnover percentage, forcing 27.1%, 35th in blocks, swiping away 12.3% and second in steals, grabbing 15.2%. This team was solid on “D.” From downtown, teams had a tough time as they connected just 31.7% (58th) of the time. The Cats two-point defense came in at 45.2%, which was 71st. This is a sound part of the Missouri game.
Coach Anderson (177-87 in eight years, 88-46 in four years at Missouri) is a popular guy. So popular that after last season for the second straight year another major basketball program tried to recruit him. But Anderson is on a mission at Missouri and it is only partly done. In a few quick years, he’s taken the Tigers from the ash heap to the summit and brought them back to the point where they are a respected national contender. In the three seasons before he came on board the team had won a total of 44 games. In the past two seasons they’ve been victorious in 54. Plus, of all Big 12 schools, Anderson has managed to recruit the top incoming class. This is a team that looks solid for this season and even better next year.
The Missouri Tigers hold the 24th spot in the national rankings. Georgetown, Oregon and Illinois are all on their schedule. Although they will be tested, this is a team that looks like it can stand the test. They are deep and young and able to wear down opponents with their energized form of basketball. Anderson is a defensive minded coach and if he can get each of his players on the same page, then they will contend for the Big 12 title. They may even get to the Final Four this season. This is a team on the rise and posing the question how high can they go?
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