MU Hoops Holds First Scrimmage: Player Evals

Saturday was the first day college basketball coaches were allowed to hold team workouts, so the University of Missouri opened the pre-season with a practice session and scrimmage open to the public. was there for the entire session, and we chatted with head coach Mike Anderson afterward. Here are our observations and player evaluations:

The most impressive player on the floor was forward Leo Lyons, who appears to have carried significant momentum into the fall. Lyons was a force in the paint, finishing early and often with an array of dunks and lay-ups. Though he still isn't particularly bulky, it's clear Lyons is going to be the man in the middle for Mizzou. When he decided to get points down low, he got them almost every time.

Lyons continues trending toward fulfilling the promise that had him rated the No. 64 player in the nation during his senior year of high school. He shot 68.4 percent over the final seven games of last season, and then averaged 30.8 points and 8.6 rebounds this summer in the K.C. Pro-Am league.

After the offeason dismissal of senior Kalen Grimes, who last year was the leading rebounder on one of the Big 12's worst rebounding teams, Lyons' importance to MU can't be overstated.

"Leo last year had a good year and hopefully he can build on what he did last year, but yeah, there's some expectations on him this year," Anderson said after the practice. "With Kalen Grimes not in the mix, it gives opportunity to other guys. So hopefully those guys understand and they want to seize that opportunity. I want them to improve on what they did last year, collectively and individually."

Another player who appeared to have improved was senior point guard Jason Horton. Horton shot well from 3-point range and confidently slashed into the lane. His emergence, after three relatively non-descript season, would add another dimension to the might mite MU perimeter attack of Horton Stefhon Hannah and Keon Lawrence.

Lawrence and Hannah were basically their usual selves Saturday. Hannah was a bit off, while Lawrence was unstoppable in one-on-one drills. Sophomore reserve J.T. Tiller, meantime, impressed with his hard work, defense and toughness. With his size and work ethic, Tiller looks like a guy who could chip in with some strong minutes off the bench.

One of the main things Anderson wants to see this fall is an improvement on the boards. Armed with what could be the Big 12's smallest team, he's stressing to his guards that they need to hit the glass.

"I think what takes place is your guard play has got to be a lot better and they've got to be some of your better rebounders as well. And a lot of rebounds are below the rim," Anderson said.

"We've got to do it a different way. Of course, size, everyone looks at it because we're not one of the bigger teams. But I think collectively, we can be a team that can rebound and that can defend at the rim … We've got to get better defensively. We've got to get better at the rim.

Demarre Carroll will help there. The Vanderbilt transfer, who sat out last season per NCAA rules and has suffered only a minor wound this offseason after being shot in his calf outside a nightclub, ran the floor very well and will be a factor around the rim. One of the few times Lyons was stopped inside came when Carroll stuffed his dunk attempt.

Also impressive was freshman Justin Safford, who appeared to be the tallest player on the floor but has a prized mix of inside and outside skills. The left-handed freshman scored several times during the scrimmage, including an acrobatic reverse while being fouled. It also seemed as though Anderson often was paying close attention to him.

"Potential is there. It's just a matter of, he's a freshman and that's the thing you've got to remember. So there's going to be some times that he looks the part of a freshman and [other times that he] looks the part of a guy who knows what he's doing. But I like his attitude," Anderson said.

Junior wing man Matt Lawrence was his usual self – in other words, he was by far the best shooter in the gym. Lawrence was nailing quick-release 3-pointers, often hitting nothing but net and with defenders rushing toward him.

The focus right now for Anderson is getting his team in good enough condition to run his frenetic system, and making them tough enough not to be exploited in the paint by larger teams. Anderson said with the fresh start comes a matching policy in terms of roles and playing time.

Said Anderson: "It's wide open in terms of players, playing time, so hopefully these guys will come in and work and try to put themselves into better position."

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