Missouri Basketball Preview: #49
Overall Rank: #49
Conference Rank: #7 Big 12 Conference
2008-09: 31-7, 12-4
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Mike Anderson (65-35 at Missouri, 154-76 overall)
It did not take Coach Mike Anderson very long to turn Missouri around. However, for the time being, the team may have peaked during the 2008-2009 campaign when they reached the Elite Eight and won 31 games. Now Coach Anderson lost his top three scorers and has an extremely young team.
Key Losses: F DeMarre Carroll, G Matt Lawrence, F Leo Lyons
Mizzou might be young, but that does not mean they will need to rely on any freshmen. Mike Dixon, Tyler Stone and Jon Underwood have the ability to compete for minutes off the bench. Dixon, a 6-1 point guard, could provide an offensive spark off the bench. He proved in high school that he can score in a variety of ways and eventually he will provide the same dynamic scoring punch in college. Stone and Underwood will beef up the frontcourt. Stone, at 6-7 and 225 pounds, is a big versatile forward and Underwood can at least block some shots as a freshman.
Matt Lawrence might have been the top scoring guard last year and a superb outside shooter, but Missouri has a couple players returning who can score as well. J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor combined to average 15.1 points per game, but it was their ability to take care of the ball in the Tigers uptempo style that is most impressive. Tiller dished out 3.6 assists per contest and only turned it over 1.6 times. Taylor’s ratio was even better with 3.4 assists and just 1.1 turnovers. Both are also solid defenders who will lead Missouri’s pressure defense. The only problem is neither are great shooters and a little more consistency from the outside shot would make them much more dangerous.
The absence of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons is certainly a big hit to this team, but things may not be as bad as they sound. Keith Ramsey earned five starts a year ago and the 6-9 senior has the experience to go from role-player to starter. Justin Safford is one of the few players who has been in the program for three years and he is a big body who can stretch out the defense with his impressive outside shooting ability. Laurence Bowers, a 6-8 forward, and 6-9 center Steve Moore were both limited in their playing time as freshmen, but could play a larger role with a year of experience under their belt.
Who to Watch:
If the frontcourt can hold their own, the group on the perimeter should take this team back to the NCAA Tournament. Tiller and Taylor are the proven stars, but Kim English is ready to take over for Lawrence. English started 13 games last year and is a great outside shooter. At 6-6, English has the size to shoot over most opponents. That leaves Marcus Denmon as the team’s main spark off the bench, assuming English steps into the starting lineup permanently. Denmon lacked consistency as a freshman, but he will only get better with time. Miguel Paul is yet another sophomore who showed promise as a freshman and will battle for minutes off the bench.
With Coach Anderson it is more about the system than the players. As long as Tiller and Taylor can keep the offense moving quickly and the defense as tenacious as it was last year, the Tigers can make up for any deficiencies that appear in the frontcourt. This might not be another Elite Eight team, but it should be an NCAA team.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Zaire Taylor, Senior, Guard, 6.7 points per game
J.T. Tiller, Senior, Guard, 8.4 points per game
Kim English, Sophomore, Guard, 6.5 points per game
Justin Safford, Junior, Forward, 3.4 points per game
Keith Ramsey, Senior, Forward, 3.6 points per game
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