It is that time of year again – that weird period when its early basketball season and late football season. It is just October, but tonight marks the beginning of Missouri’s exhibition portion of the schedule tonight as Northwest Missouri St. comes to town.
And man, am I excited. I am always excited for basketball. Rarely am I this excited. This is twofold: 1) Missouri football sucks right now and 2) This team is gonna be awesome.
Expectations are high – a lot higher than last year. This is despite losing the top three scorers from a 7-man rotation that won 30 games. Why? Because the 2012-13 roster is uber-athletic and talented and has – wait for it – size. Five guys over 6-foot-9, something Mizzou basketball fans are not used to seeing.
One thing Mizzou fans are used to seeing is point guards Phil “Flip” Pressey and Mike Dixon. For the first time in their careers, the duo will start together, and represents one of the best backcourts in America. In fact, Pressey has earned several preseason honors already, including first team Preseason All-American, All-SEC and SEC Preseason Player of the Year – in a league he has not even played a game in…yet. WOW.
“You can not win without a point guard,” South Carolina and former K-State head man Frank Martin said. “And Phil Pressey is an elite-level point guard.”
Arkansas’ Mike Anderson – the coach who is basically an uncle to Pressey, his dad’s best friend and college roommate and the coach who recruited him to Mizzou – had some kind words for the point guard as well: “I think that he is one of the best point guards in the country. Obviously, we recruited him. I have known him all of his life. Phil is the epitome of a point guard. He’s like a coach on the floor. More than that, he’s just a great, great kid. I think that he just knows how to keep his team going—he just has a lot of strength. I think that he is ahead of his time when it comes to playing basketball. I am excited for him. Of course, he is the one that has to go out there and play and prove it, but I believe that he will be up to that challenge.”
The backcourt is the engine for Mizzou, and it won’t be any different again this year. Dixon has also been named second team Preseason SEC, but they are not alone.
“I think it’s pretty good,” head coach Frank Haith said. “It was pretty good last year and Pressey and Dixon have both gotten better…I think it’s pretty good if people across the country are thinking they’re pretty good.”
Pressey and Dixon will be joined by a talented new cast of newcomers, which include transfers junior Earnest Ross (Auburn, 2nd team SEC in 2010-11 and SEC Newcomer of the Year in 2009-10), senior Keion Bell (Pepperdine, leading scorer two years in a row) and eligible at semester sophomore Jabari Brown (Oregon, the ninth-rated recruit from a year ago who played just two games before transferring, costing him his an entire year of eligibility). Bell and Ross are both good outside shooters who will try and fill the void of marksmen Marcus Denmon and Kim English.
“We don’t have any great shooters, but we have a lot of good shooter and I think we’ll be a team that can really attack and get to the free-throw line and driving the ball and being aggressive,” Haith said of the backcourt.
For a little teaser, enjoy this:
That was Bell, who according to him, “has never lost a dunk contest.”
I believe it.
Bell, a senior, will likely serve as the sixth man on this year’s squad with Ross earning the starting nod out on the wing, joining Pressey and Dixon in the backcourt. Bell will start tonight in Dixon’s spot as he misses the game with a suspension for “violation of team rules.”
The front court is all locked up with another transfer – UCONN’s Alex Oriakhi, who started at center two years ago on the NCAA championship team before being demoted back to the bench behind freshman 1-and-done Andre Drummond (now English’s teammate with the Pistons) last season. Because UCONN’s probation, players were allowed to leave without sitting out a year and Oriakhi came calling to Mizzou, thanks to his longtime AAU teammate, Pressey. Now, the Tigers have a legit big man. No offense to Ricardo Ratliffe, who was one of the nation’s best from the field last year and averaged nearly 14 points per game (13.7), but he was a power forward playing center.
“He is a Christmas present,” Haith said about Oriakhi.
Also back is Laurence Bowers, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury. The high-flyer is a game changer for Mizzou, where the 6-foot-8 silky-smooth, gliding small forward playing power forward adds another element to the Tigers, whose front court is pretty solid with Bowers and Oroahki ranking 38th and 35th, respectively, in a ranking on the nation’s big men (although, I don’t consider Bowers a “big man” – but he does play like one defensively with his length, where he rebounds and blocks shots, but has the ability to face up and extend his game to the 3-point line.) Credit my brother, who called in to a local radio show five years ago and likened Bowers to former Kentucky Wildcat and current Piston Tayshaun Prince. Good comparison.
Bowers would have made the Tigers even better last year, but some believe it is a blessing in disguise that he is back with this group with to provide the team with another veteran presence.
“When people say we won last year and it was kind of a blessing in disguise not having him … they’re crazy,” Haith said.
Haith said that he had to go after transfers because when he first got to Mizzou there were not enough quality recruits to go after. In addition to them, the Tigers have five more new faces: freshman Ryan Rosburg, a 6-10er who should be the first center off the bench, juco transfer Tony Criswell, who will play PF, Huntington, West Virginia Prep teammates, 6-7 200 wingman Negus Webster-Chan – who will play an increased role until Brown is back after the smester – and 6-10 Buck Grimm clone Stefan Jankovic and freshman 6-4 guard Dominique Bull. Also joining the team are walk-ons Corey Haith (coach Haith’s son) and former Jefferson City Helias and Ivy League’s Columbia University transfer, 6-10 Danny Feldman.
In all, the Tigers have 11 new players. No matter how talented they are, meshing will take some time and there may not be enough minutes to go around.
“We’re not there yet,” Haith said about the team chemistry. “But, we are getting there. You can have a lot of great talented players, but if it doesn’t mesh well, you’re not going to have a very good basketball team.”
Now, back to the expectations. Missouri was ranked 17th in the first Coaches Poll, 15th in the AP, and is all over the board by other publications out there. Sports Illustrated has Mizzou No. 5. CBS came out with their predictions two and a half weeks ago. Three of the six “experts” picked Mizzou as a Final Four team, despite only one picking them to win the conference. One of them, Doug Gottlieb, formerly of ESPN who seemed to not be a fan of the Tigers last year, picked a…wait for it…Mizzou-Kansas NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP game. That would be epic. My head would also explode.
Haith says last year’s team wasn’t supposed to be any good once they lost Bowers, so no reason to pay attention to hype now..and adds, “I don’t think any banners are raised in October.”
The SEC writers picked Mizzou third in the league behind Kentucky and Florida.
|The predicted order of finish in the 2012-13 SEC men’s basketball season, according to a preseason vote of reporters who cover the league:|
|1. Kentucky||328 (17)|
|2. Florida||310 (5)|
|3. Missouri||286 (1)|
|4. Tennessee||269 (1)|
|7. Ole Miss||186|
|9. Texas A&M||122|
|13. South Carolina||54|
|14. Mississippi State||37|
Kentucky lost its top six players from last year’s 16-0 undefeated SEC, 38-2 National title team, but is expected to reload. They got 328 total points and 17. Florida got five first-place votes, Missouri and Tennessee one each.
Pressey received six Player of the Year votes, Florida’s Kenny Boynton got five and Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Arkansas’s BJ Young got three apiece. All five players were voted preseason All-SEC first team. On the second team was another Kentucky freshman, Alex Pothyress, joining Dixon, Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell, Florida’s Patrick Young, Georgia’s Kenavious Cladwell-Pope and Tennessee’s Jeronne Maymon.
Mizzou football’s long-term stability in the SEC is a big question mark, but I LOVE the future outlook of Mizzou basketball. There are some good programs in the league. Kentucky is basically Kansas, but top to bottom the SEC is not as good of a league because the middle of the pack seems to be better in the Big 12, but with the addition of Texas A&M and Mizzou, maybe that will change. Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina and LSU are not very good. The SEC is a top-heavy league and every few years a team comes out of nowhere to compete for the league. Florida’s Billy Donovan says the league’s new goal should be to get eight teams into the NCAA Tournament now that the Aggies and Tigers have joined. It may be a bit of a stretch with the league usually only getting in a handful of teams, but it is not out of the question. Haith is a little more hesitant, saying 6-7 teams would be a good goal. He also said that SEC basketball is underrated because football is so “dog gone good.” Good point.
Either way, The Tigers have a good chance to be conference contenders every year and it is a good sign that Mizzou’s expectations are high even after a year where they lost more half their scoring and four of their top seven players.
Haith would not commit to this year’s team being better than last year, even though the preseason expectations are MUCH higher.
South Carolina’s Frank Martin said he thinks Mizzou has a shot to win the league because of their great homecourt advantage. He should know…then again, he was one of the few that could come into Mizzou Arena and actually win…Other coaches weighed in on Mizzou (and A&M’s) entrance into the league:
- Martin: “It’ll take a bit for these guys to get going (because of all the transfers and new players), but by the end of the year, they’ll be a high-level team.”
- Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings: “Mizzou and Texas A&M bring a lot of quality to this league…But, I do not know enough about Mizzou to know if they can compete for an SEC championship, or not.”
- Donovan: “Mizzou is a contender for the SEC crown, but like everyone else, they’ll have to earn in.”
- Alabama’s Anthony Grant: “From the outside looking in, Haith appears to have a very strong team this year. I’m excited about the future of the SEC. We’ve got some very good teams. There’s the potential for this year to be one of the best in quite a while for our league.”
- Kentucky’s John Calipari: “Last year’s league was really strong and prepared us to do what we did, to win a national title. There’s no question about it. You think about our league and the teams that we had, now you add Texas A&M and Missouri. Think about what happens now. Now we start moving up a notch in where everybody is. I think, again, seven teams in our league, half of our league is going to be in the NCAA tournament. That’s what I believe. And I think that will be from here on in. If you would poll the coaches across the league, I think you’d hear consistently that this could be a banner year for our league — in terms of how many teams we can potentially get into the postseason.”
- Auburn’s Tony Barbee: “It’s going to be a special year for the SEC, no question. … It’s as strong as any conference in the country. … I think this year coming up could be a banner year, the best ever in the SEC where we’re looking at getting six, seven, maybe even eight teams into the NCAA tournament.”
Haith, on the other hand, wouldn’t tip his cap. He would not say if his team was better this year than last, but did say that this year’s team is more versatile. He also reminded everyone that only two current Tigers have logged minutes under Haith (Pressey, Dixon).
Haith started watching SEC tape in the summer. Said the biggest thing he noticed was the SEC presses more than the Big 12.
And, one last thing. Replacing Kansas is impossible, but Arkansas will be a rival and quickly. “Suitcase” or “Lying” Mike Anderson, whichever you prefer, being the head coach will make it even better…and, their fans are TRASH.
Haith said that he and Anderson are friends, that rivalries are great and Missouri fans will be “great” to Anderson when he returns to the Dutch Oven Mizzou Arena…Define, great.
One way to get a glance at what this year’s team will be a quick study of the team’s European Tour in August, where the Tigers were able to play five games. There was no Bowers or Pressey, but that is not a big deal, we know them. Canadian Webster-Chan was either dealing with eligibility or visa issues and was also not able to play, but we still got a good luck at the new-look Tigers.
Here are the box scores for each game.
- Game 1: Mizzou 87, Rotterdam 64
- Game 2: Mizzou 54, Netherlands National B (U24) 29 — one half
- Game 3: Mizzou 81, Bent-Waregem 72
- Game 4: Mizzou 72, Gent Dragons 56
- Game 5: Mizzou 81, Cergy 61
In five games, the average score was 83.3-62.7. Offense was an issue, where the Tigers only averaged 1.07 points per possession on the trip, which is solid but less than tremendous, especially compared to last year. But, that’s okay, really, considering Pressey wasn’t playing. But the bigger story was that defensive number; Mizzou allowed just 0.81 points per possession on the trip. I’m not going to claim that any team they played was tremendous offensively (I have no idea, but I assume reasonably low quality here), but let’s put it this way: in the three Mizzou exhibitions last year, Missouri Southern, Truman State and Central Missouri combined to average 0.88 points per possession. So 0.81 is really, really damn low, and no matter the level of competition, MIzzou played some strong defense.
So how did they do it? Well, creating 20.2 turnovers per game helped, but one should probably note the combination of 21.8% 3-point shooting and Mizzou’s complete and total domination on the glass. For better and for worse, this year’s team is going to have a completely different identity. Last year’s weaknesses (rebounding, 3-point defense) could become strengths this year, while last year’s strengths (3-point shooting, offensive ball-handling) could become occasional weaknesses. This team is bigger, more athletic and will be able to attack the rim. We don’t typically see such a 180-degree flip in identity, but also do we rarely see so much roster turnover, either. Incredibly, only one contributor from last year — Mike Dixon — played for Mizzou in Europe. The starter minutes went to Dixon and four transfers (Ross, Oriakhi, Bell, Brown).
Mike Dixon: 30.2 MPG, 17.8 PPG (50% 2PT, 38% 3PT, 88% FT), 5.3 APG, 3.8 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 3.8 TOPG
Earnest Ross: 29.3 MPG, 12.9 PPG (62% 2PT, 21% 3PT, 57% FT), 9.6 RPG (3.0 OFF), 3.1 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 2.2 TOPG
Keion Bell: 30.9 MPG, 12.0 PPG (51% 2PT, 20% 3PT, 68% FT), 6.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.7 SPG, 3.3 TOPG
Alex Oriakhi: 21.8 MPG, 10.7 PPG (59% 2PT, 71% FT), 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.1 TOPG
Ryan Rosburg: 17.8 MPG, 6.0 PPG (50% 2PT, 47% FT), 4.9 RPG
Tony Criswell: 20.4 MPG, 8.9 PPG (65% 2PT, 20% 3PT, 64% FT), 4.7 RPG, 1.6 TOPG
Jabari Brown: 24.0 MPG, 10.7 PPG (45% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 67% FT), 2.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 1.6 APG, 2.0 TOPG
Stefan Jankovic: 12.0 MPG, 3.6 PPG (57% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 67% FT), 2.7 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Danny Feldman: 7.8 MPG, 0.9 PPG (28% 2PT), 1.3 RPG
Dominique Bull: 4.4 MPG, 0.0 PPG
Corey Haith: 1.8 MPG
Generally speaking, it appears Missouri will have eight-nine man rotation consisting of the five starters, an extra point guard, an extra wing, and two extra bigs. Missouri will play more than that, probably AT LEAST 11 guys every game, but 8-9 guys should get the most playing time.
Starters: Pressey, Dixon, Ross, Bowers, Oriakhi
Backup Point/wing: Bell
Backup Wing: Brown (when eligible), Webster-Chan (while Brown is out)
Backup Bigs: Criswell, Rosburg
Now, there are tons of caveats with what I just wrote. Ross and Bowers will probably both spend a lot of time at the power forward spot (depending on how much Haith decides to play small ball this year), meaning Pressey, Dixon and Bell could spend quite a bit of time together in the backcourt. Plus, while Criswell showed quite a bit, especially in Games No. 1 and 4, Ryan Rosburg could give him a run for his money. Rosburg was a beast on the offensive glass (15% offensive rebounding rate to Criswell’s 7%) and, as we’ll see below, drew tons of contact, but Criswell might be a little better on the defensive side of the ball (17% defensive rebounding rate to Rosburg’s 13%). That alone might suggest that Mizzou will go with more of a nine-man rotation. And that could go to 10 at times, since somebody is going to have to play the Backup Wing role until Brown becomes eligible. And considering Dominique Bull was getting Corey Haith minutes even without Pressey involved, I’m pretty sure that somebody is named Negus Webster-Chan (or, technically, Stefan Jankovic, who roamed the perimeter quite a bit on offense).
- Mike Dixon shot 9-for-24 from 3-point range (1-for-6 versus Gent, 8-for-18 versus everybody else), good for a decent 37.5%. Everybody else: 12-for-54 (22.2%). Yuck. Jabari Brown shoots a lot of 3-pointers (16 in 108 minutes) considering he still hasn’t proven he’s very good at them, but Earnest Ross yanked up quite a few himself (19 in 132 minutes). Jankovic and Criswell took 12 in a combined 146 minutes, as well. Mizzou is probably going to keep shooting a lot of 3′s, but let’s just say I hope they continue their stellar offensive rebounding ways this winter.
- On a per-minute basis, your best box score contributor was neither Dixon (0.54 AdjGS per minute) nor Ross (0.55); it was Alex Oriakhi (0.57), who scored 48 points on 32 field goal attempts and absolutely pummeled the glass (20% offensive rebounding rate, 17% defensive rebounding rate). He was easily the biggest force on the offensive glass, and he was second on defense to … small forward Earnest Ross (22%). When you’ve got a Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon leading the charge, you can play at a fast pace while still practicing full-team rebounding. Considering six different players averaged at least a 13% defensive rebounding rate (and, hell, Dixon was at 12%), it’s fair to say that’s what Mizzou attempted here. And with infinitely more big bodies than last year, they did a hell of a job.
- I was really, really curious about Keion Bell’s box score contributions. As we know, he was a huge scorer at Pepperdine, but we didn’t completely know if that was by design or necessity. Well, with the way he played in Europe, it’s pretty clear that Mizzou now has a backcourt of three potential point guards, or at least one true point in Phil Pressey (sorry, Doug Gottlieb) and two 1.5′s in Dixon and Bell. Bell’s percentages (61% pass, 23% shoot, 9% fouled, 8% turnover) mirrored Dixon’s almost exactly. That’s pretty much exactly what I hoped to see.
- As long as you’re not counting on him too much, it’s nice to have a free-shooting loose cannon coming off of the bench. He can shoot you into games sometimes, and if he’s shooting you out, you send him back to the bench. Well … let’s hope Mizzou isn’t absolutely counting on Jabari Brown this season; he could be a great contributor off the bench, but he really does shoot a lot. Then again, that might be unfair, Both Dixon and Ross were doing a lot of ball-handling, so somebody had to be taking the shots. And the fact that he averaged 1.8 steals and 1.6 assists is a decent sign that he can contribute to the box score when his shot isn’t falling (and for much of the trip, it wasn’t).
- Alex Oriakhi averaged 3.8 fouls in just 21.8 minutes per game. So yeah, it’s quite likely that Criswell, Rosburg and Jankovic will all get some minutes this season.
- We know what kind of hands Mike Dixon has, but it was really exciting to see that both Ross and Bell each averaged 2.7 steals per game(and Brown threw in another 1.8). We don’t yet know how the perimeter defense will be this year, but signs point to improvement there and a lot of quick hands on defense.
No matter what happens this year, this team is completely different from last year and I don’t think I have ever seen a team’s makeup do a complete 180 in such a short amount of time. I don’t know if this team will win 30 games like last year’s squad or receive a high NCAA Tournament seed. But, I do know that this team is LOADED and are going to be fun to watch.
MUtigers.com: CBS Sports Names Phil Pressey Preseason First Team All-American
The Maneater: Laurence Bowers makes return on Mizzou Madness stage
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Alex Oriakhi
The Trib (Steve Walentik): Tigers meet the media
KBIA Sports: New faces bring defensive strength for Mizzou men
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Keion Bell
The Trib (Steve Walentik): Media pick Tigers third in SEC, Pressey preseason POY
The Missourian: Missouri’s Pressey SEC preseason Player of the Year
KC Star: Pressey is SEC preseason player of year; MU picked to finish third
Post-Dispatch: MU’s Pressey voted SEC’s top preseason player
Fox Sports MW: Pressey voted preseason SEC POY
KBIA Sports: Pressey named Preseason Player of the Year, Mizzou projected to finish third
MUtigers.com: Mizzou Basketball Opens Season in Style
The Trib: MU basketball opens up with expectations, unknowns
KC Star: At Mizzou Madness, Tigers leap into new season
Post-Dispatch: Tigers are in sync
The Maneater: Tigers put on showcase at Mizzou Madness
KBIA Sports: Long wait finally over for Mizzou’s Laurence Bowers
MUtigers.com: Friday’s Mizzou Madness Extends Autograph Session
Post-Dispatch: Tigers come together on their trip to Europe
St. Louis, Then?
KC Star: KC unlikely to bid for SEC hoops event
Mizzou Network: Tigers Release 2012-13 Non-League Schedule
The Trib: Toughest tests await Tigers away from home
The Trib (Steve Walentik): More thoughts on Missouri’s schedule
PowerMizzou: Tigers release basketball schedule
KC Star: MU’s full basketball schedule released; no game in KC
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou announces 2012-13 basketball schedule
Post-Dispatch: Tigers will face college hoops bluebloods
MUtigers.com: Mizzou Sports Network Releases Television Schedule
ESPN.com: Nonconference schedule analysis: SEC