On Friday evening (7:00 P.M., MSN), the #15 Missouri Tigers will open exhibition play at Mizzou Arena against the Harris-Stowe State Hornets (1-0).
For the Tigers, this is a warm-up, a dress rehearsal, and a chance for Missouri Head Coach Mike Anderson to take a look at his team playing against someone else. Missouri returns 8 players from last year's squad, including walk-on junior G Jarrett Sutton 6'4" 190. Among the 5 newcomers to the team are 2 junior college All-Americans, and 3 very talented freshmen.
The lone senior on the squad is F Justin Safford 6'9" 230. Safford's junior season ended abruptly in March, when he suffered a knee injury. He's diligently working his way back, and appears to be approaching his pre-injury form. Last season, Safford averaged 8.6 points/game in 20 minutes/game, and pulled down 4.1 rebounds/game, while shooting 42% from the field, and 43% from behind the arc. The lefty adds size and experience, as well as a nice jump shot, and hopefully, some help on the boards for the Tigers.
Among Missouri's returning players is junior G Marcus Denmon 6'3" 185. Last season, Denmon averaged 10.4 points/game, in 21 minutes/game, and shot 43% from the field, and 41% from behind the arc. Denmon averaged 2.9 rebounds/game, and posted an assist to turn over ratio of 1.55. Denmon appears to have regained some of the athleticism that he had shown prior to a knee injury which he incurred almost two years ago.
Another returning player is junior G Kim English 6'6" 200, who last year led the team in scoring, at 14 points/game, in 24.1 minutes/game. English, who shot 40% from the field, and 37% from behind the arc, pulled down 3.4 rebounds/game, and picked up 1.3 steals/game. But, English struggled defensively, and led the team in turnovers, as he was the only guard on the team with more turnovers than assists (0.55 A/TO). Earlier this week, Coach Anderson said that he thinks English is "playing better".
Returning junior F Laurence Bowers 6'8" 210 averaged 10.2 points/game and 5.7 rebounds/game, in 22.5 minutes/game last season. Bowers shot 56% from the field, and 40% from behind the arc. Bowers is a well-rounded player who just continues to improve.
Another returning player for Missouri is junior C Steve Moore 6'9" 270, who averaged 1.1 points/game, and 1.6 rebounds/game in 10.1 minutes/game.
Sophomore G Michael Dixon 6'1" 180 returns for Missouri, following a promising freshman season in which he averaged 7.5 points/game, and 1.6 assists/game in 16.6 minutes/game. Dixon shot 47% from the field, and 36% from behind the arc, and was stellar at the FT line, where he shot 86%. His assist to turnovers ratio was 1.72 A/TO, and he came up with 0.97 steals/game. A full off-season in Missouri's strength and conditioning program has helped Dixon's physical strength, which is especially evident in his increased shooting range.
Returning for another season is sophomore F Jon Underwood 6'9" 228, who saw little action a year ago.
One of the newcomers that has everyone excited is junior F Ricardo Ratliffe 6'8" 240. Ratliffe comes in with impressive credentials, including two-time selection as a JUCO All-American. For Missouri fans, Ratliffe is going to be a treat, as the Tigers haven't had a player like this in a while. Perhaps most encouraging from the early reports on this powerful and athletic big man, is that Coach Anderson is impressed with Ratliffe's work ethic.
Another newcomer is junior G Matt Pressey 6'2" 185, another JUCO All-American, who appears to have a high basketball IQ, and a well-rounded game.
Matt's younger brother is freshman G Phil Pressey 5'10" 168, who comes to Missouri very highly regarded, and will undoubtedly see plenty of action as a freshman. Pressey is extremely quick, and is skilled at distibuting the basketball.
Freshman G Ricky Kreklow 6'6" 195 is another exciting youngster who's going to see a lot of early action. Kreklow is another very high IQ player, who can really shoot, as well as pass, the basketball.
Talented freshman F Kadeem Green 6'8" 200 is still recovering from an Achilles injury, which he incurred last January. Coach Anderson recently estimated that Green is about 75-80% recovered. Green is extremely long, and very athletic. He possesses surprising perimeter skills for someone so tall. He could really use some added weight on his long frame, but he is definitely in the mix to see some floor time this season.
The Tigers are hopeful of adding freshman F Tony Mitchell 6'8" 220 following the first semester. Mitchell is waiting to be cleared to play by the NCAA. Mitchell is an outstanding talent, who played this past summer on the USA team that won the FIBA Americas tournament. He's an extremely athletic big man who can score inside and out, but accepted a role on the USA team as a defender and rebounder.
Coach Anderson's going to have fun integrating his talented newcomers with his returning players. With so many new players, and especially if Mitchell arrives at semester, Missouri is likely to be an improving team throughout the season.