*Midnight Madness is over, and with it went the smoke machines, dunk contests and laser shows that kick off the season. College basketball begins now, and while the excitement still remains it’s time to peel the hype back and see who the nation’s best truly are. That’s why Dime has you covered with individual previews of the nation’s top 15 teams and a few others just outside, all over the course of the next few weeks. Today, Missouri.
The Missouri Tigers are a team that’s going to be out for blood this season, playing with a chip on their collective shoulders for the full college hoops season. What are they out to prove? That they belong with the big boys in the NCAA for an extended stay. They think that they are just as good as the Kentucky, Ohio State, Baylor and Syracuse traditions of the world. Last year, they never got the chance to prove that during the NCAA Tournament. Norfolk State made history in becoming the fifth 15-seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. This season they’ll be ranked in the nation’s top 25 and will be looking to prove again that they belong. In our season preview we’ll take a look to see if they really do or not.
They’ll have to do so without the help of standout graduates Marcus Denmon and Kim English, now both in the NBA. Not to mention the presence of Matt Pressey in their locker room. Overall, this team has made some very good additions that should ultimately get them back to where they were last season.
The Tigers aren’t that athletic as a team. They’ll get up and down the floor on you because of their strategy and lack of rebounding, but they won’t usually beat you in a foot race. They’ve improved dramatically in this category since last season by adding some bigs who jump out of the gym in Alex Oriakhi, a four-year player and NCAA champion at Connecticut, and Ryan Rosburg. Phil “Flip” Pressey and Michael Dixon were already speed demons on the floor, and then they added Corey Haith â€” son of head coach Frank Haith â€” to that backcourt, as well. There will be a lot more speed than there was last year and a lot more floor balance to go with that. Instead of playing with primarily guards, there will be at least three guys who can contribute who are taller than 6-8.
This is a very, very fundamentally sound team. They have a lot of freshman on the team, but most of them come with plenty of skill outside of their raw ability. Missouri is a team that thrives off of ball movement. Haith preached that throughout last season and will continue to do that through this season. They still have Pressey and Dixon to instill that in this team, as well. They’ve got players such as Oriakhi and Rosburg who do exceptionally well in categories like rebounding and shot blocking. They’ve got Stefan Jankovic, hailing from Ontario, Canada, who is a point forward that can do it all. He’s a good passer, scorer and rebounder and uses his height very well on the floor. Add that to all of the skill that this team has at the guard positions and you’ve got a very fundamentally sound team.
This team isn’t going to have the chemistry that they had last season. They’ve already lost three key players from last year that kept the locker room tight in English, Denmon and Matt Pressey. This year, it’s going to be up to Flip and Marcus to keep that going. There are six freshman on this team and four transfers, a group of new faces who all likely can contribute to this team, but will require serious acclimation to do so. The transfers shouldn’t take very long to get acclimated to their surroundings, but being at a different program is going to have a certain adjustment period to it.
For the freshman, college basketball is going to be a totally different world for them. Some of them are going to go from playing huge minutes to none at all. What Missouri does have to count on his Haith and his two veteran guards to deal with these issues as they come along.
Alex Oriakhi is coming from Connecticut, where there has been a lot of turmoil in recent years to go with a lot of wins. That championship two seasons ago is something that Oriakhi had a huge part in contributing to. He was a paperweight big man for that team in the paint with his defensive reliability and effectiveness crashing the boards. That’s something that Missouri was missing last season. They weren’t very good on the defensive end in the paint and they also failed to rebound well. Part of that was because they played three and four guard lineups all season. Another reason for that was because of a lack of talent there. Trust the numbers: Mizzou ranked 279th in the nation in rebounds per game last season. Needless to say, that’s near the bottom of the pack. They needed help in that area and Oriakhi is going to bring that. In 2010-11 when UConn won the title, Oriakhi averaged 8.7 rebounds per game.
If he can get anywhere close to that production for Missouri, it’s going to make them a much better team. Kyle O’Quinn of Norfolk State found a spot in the NBA Draft because of Missouri’s lack of post defense and rebounding. Oriakhi would’ve made a huge difference in that spot.
Missouri is ranked around 17th in the nation in several polls, a spot I believe is proper. They have a lot to prove this season, especially after finishing the last one on such an embarrassing note. They need to show us that they’re back for blood. They should want to make every team pay for what happened to them. I’m sure Haith, Pressey and Dixon will stress that throughout the year. They’ll need to get the freshman and transfers acclimated to playing Missouri basketball, which is more fast and fluid than most. They thrive on ball movement and fast-paced action on the floor to increase their perimeter effectiveness. With their new-found big men, they’ll be able to have some size down low and that’s going to make a difference when protecting the rim. Overall, I think they’ve got a great coach and some great leaders on this team and with the talent that they’ve accrued this offseason, they’ll be a force again. Maybe this year won’t result in a second-round exit.
How good will they be this year?
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