With the Frank Haith era of Missouri basketball slated to tip off this Sunday (5:30 P.M., ESPNU), with an exhibition game against Missouri Southern in Joplin, ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look at who the Tigers will have on the court this season.
"We're only two weeks into (our new system)," said Coach Haith. "So, you're talking about picking up something that is totally different than the seniors have done for three years. And now, two weeks is what we've had to implement. In terms of a gauge of (how we're doing), I'd say that we're really in good shape. In the Black & Gold Game, I was encouraged by how our guys performed after just one week of practice! I think we're doing OK."
Missouri returns eight scholarship players from last year's NCAA Tournament team. An ninth, F Laurence Bowers 6'8" 221, will miss the 2011-2012 season due to an ACL injury, and has indicated that he will return as a fifth-year senior for the 2012-2013 season. The loss of Bowers is a huge blow to the Tigers in Frank Haith's first season as Missouri's head coach.
Not only are the Tigers short-handed, but they're also very thin up front. Only senior F Ricardo Ratliffe 6'8" 240 is truly established as a front line front court player for Missouri. With his ability and experience, Ratliffe will be a formidable inside presence for Missouri this year. The Tigers need a huge year from the Ratliffe, and that will begin with him making sure that he stays out of foul trouble, so that he can stay on the floor for upwards of 30 minutes/game.
Senior F Steve Moore 6'9" 267 has played a lot over the past couple of season, but almost entirely in a reserve role. The Tigers need Big Steve to step up the level of his play this year, as they're going to need him to play big, and to play a lot. Moore's big body and soft touch is better suited to the half-court style that Coach Haith will employ. He'll have to learn how to stay out of foul trouble, as the Tigers would like for Big Steve to play as much as he can. Moore appears to be in good shape, and is playing better than ever. Fouls and effectiveness will be big factors in determining the extent of Moore's playing time, which could reach the 25-minute/game level.
The loss of Bowers also means that RSF F Kadeem Green 6'8" 213 will be counted upon to play a big role, as well. Green looks stronger, and his development will be important to the Tigers this season. Green's playing time will depend largely on his effectiveness. There's definitely an opportunity for Green to play a lot, if he plays well. Green's length is sorely needed on the court for Missouri, and he may be able to help defensively, and on the boards.
"Last year, I sat out, so right now, I'm kind of hungry for minutes," said Green. "Over the past year, I've been working hard in the weight room……………………………………. I've noticed that I can finish better around the basket, and I can hold position better……………………………….. My role is to do some of the things similar to what Laurence (Bowers) did last year."
Coach Haith talked about the expanded roles that Moore and Green will play this year.
"Everybody's excited about knowing that you're going to play more, and have more opportunity to play," said Coach Haith. "But, we've got to see production. And, we'll see how that goes. Steve's been great! Kadeem is still developing and getting better. He's had his moments, too! But, I'm excited about Steve!"
Junior F Andy Rosburg 6'8" 230 is the only other player with size who is eligible to play this season. It remains to be seen how much, if any, Rosburg will be able to help this year, as he just recently joined the team. Early returns would suggest limited playing time for the walk-on.
The Tigers return plenty of experience in the back-court, beginning with senior All-American candidate Marcus Denmon 6'3" 185. Denmon spent part of the summer playing for the USA National team, and he appears to be poised to lead the Tigers in his final campaign. With his 50% FG%, 45% 3-PT FG%, and 16.9 points/game scoring average as a junior, Denmon is one of the Tigers' best scoring options. Of course, scoring isn't the only thing that the intelligent and multi-talented Denmon brings to the floor for Missouri. He also brings toughness, and an intelligent approach, and understanding of the game, which when combined with his extensive experience, sets him apart from all but a few college players.
The diminutive and exciting sophomore, Phil Pressey 5'10" 175, returns his many talents to the floor for the Tigers, and appears to be set to play a major starting role in the back court, along with Denmon. Pressey is another versatile performer, who does just about everything on the court. Coach Haith has compared Flip to T.J. Ford, whom he coached during his time as an assistant at Texas. The Tigers will be looking for "Flip" to improve upon his 1.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio from a season ago.
Whether as a starter, or coming off of the bench, look for sophomore G Mike Dixon 6'1" 185 to play starter-type minutes, often in a three-guard, or four-guard line-up. Dixon is another versatile performer, who averaged 10.3 points/game a year ago, and will be looking to improve his all-around game, including his nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The older brother, senior G Matt Pressey 6'2" 195, will provide experienced depth for Missouri in the back court. He's going to have to discover that he's not a 3-PT shooter, but he does possess a nice mid-range game, and the ability to drive to the basket. Improving his rebounding will earn him more playing time, but with such a short bench, Matt will likely see quite a bit of playing time for the Tigers.
The final piece of the puzzle for Coach Haith is senior G Kim English 6'6" 200, whom Coach Haith has suggested will see time at the PF position, in a four-guard line-up.
"When you look at Kimmy and the position he's playing, he's going to have chances to get loose because he's playing the ‘four' spot, which is a tremendous advantage on one end," explained Coach Haith, talking about playing English in a four-guard line-up. "But, when you look at the other end, we have to rebound the ball better if we want to have Kimmy playing outside like that on the ‘four'. But it is a great advantage to have a guy like that who can stretch the defense and it will also help guys like Ricardo Ratliffe, knowing you have space to work in the paint."
To English's credit, he appears to be playing a little smarter with the basketball, and for really the first time at Missouri, he's giving a good effort on the boards. English appears to have slightly improved his athleticism, and he's doing a better job of spotting up for jump shots. He still wants to dominate the basketball too much, but he seems to have a little bit better idea that the ball belongs in the hands of his play making teammates, Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon, and Marcus Denmon.
It remains to be seen how effective English can be in a four-guard line-up. There's no question, however, that the Tigers have three guards who are better than English, and with the loss of Bowers, and unless Green improves rapidly, the Tigers are extremely short-handed up front. As Coach Haith alluded to, the Tigers will enjoy some advantages on the offensive end with English playing at the four, but they're just as likely, maybe more likely, to have problems on the other end.
Coach Haith talked about the importance of rebounding the basketball.
"Our ability to rebound the basketball, will probably determine how much we (play a four guard line-up)," explained Coach Haith. "Because I think, offensively, we're going to be fine. It's all going to depend by what we do on the other end……………………………………… We're going to do things to protect (English), but at the end of the day, we've still got to rebound the basketball."
A pair of walk-on guards, senior Jarrett Sutton 6'4" 196, and freshman Tony Lester 5'10" 179 are each available, as needed. Sutton does have some college playing experience, having seen limited action in mop-up duty over the past three seasons. I'm not sure either of these walk-ons will play much, as Missouri has some really quality guards, who will play a lot of minutes.
A trio of transfers, who will not be available to play for Missouri until the 2012-2013 season, will provide the Tigers with quality competition in practice this season. Included in that trio are two scholarship players, G Keion Bell 6'3" 200, and SF Earnest Ross 6'5" 222, and a walk-on, F Danny Feldmann 6'9" 215. Coach Haith talked about having Ross and Bell here this year.
"They are really important because you look like Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon and all those guys going up against Kimmy, and those guys are physical guards," said Coach Haith. "They're big and strong, and every day at practice is only going to help those guys get better this year."
After three exhibition games, and three early warm-ups against lesser competition, Missouri's first real tests come against Notre Dame, and either California or Georgia, in Kansas City, just before Thanksgiving, in the CBE Classic. It's going to be an interesting season, watching Coach Haith and company in their first season at Missouri, and seeing how well the four-guard line-up works, or if Kadeem Green can quickly develop into an adequate Big 12-caliber player. It's also going to be fun watching Marcus Denmon for one final season. He's been a joy to watch during his time at Missouri.