Anderson turned Tigers into Elite Team

Heading into Mike Anderson's third season as the head coach at the University of Missouri, expectations were not soaring. How did Anderson turn the Tigers into an elite 31-7 team. Go inside to get InsideMizzou.coms Erik Johnson's thoughts of how this fantastic season developed.

Heading into Mike Anderson's third season as the head coach at the University of Missouri, expectations were not soaring.

After two straight years of missing the NCAA tournament, the Tigers were picked to finish seventh in the Big XII by Anderson's peers.

And it was not just his fellow coaches that were not sold on Anderson leading the resurrection of Missouri basketball. On Tiger message boards the whispers from a disgruntled minority of fans were growing louder.

Those fans did not believe Anderson's style of play could succeed with the elite talent in the Big XII.

Consider Anderson's peers and the formerly-disgruntled Missouri fans to be proven wrong.

Not only did Anderson and his team surpass expectations, but they obliterated them on their way to a 31-7 record and third place finish in the Big XII.

Then the Tigers really got down to work as they plowed through the Big XII tournament on the way to Missouri's second-ever Big XII Championship.

After a bit of celebrating in Oklahoma City, Anderson and company took there show to Boise, ID where they started their run to the Elite Eight.

It was an outstanding season to say the least, but how did Anderson transform a .500 team from last season into one of the top eight teams in the country?

The answer is simple: depth.

Of course there were the other factors such as increased maturity, more talent, etc. but this was the first season Anderson had the guns to really run his system.

Nine players, including three freshmen, averaged at least 10 minutes per game. Not included in those nine players is sophomore Justin Safford who made huge contributions in the tournament or freshman Laurence Bowers who made his presence felt numerous times throughout the year.

With increased depth came increased intensity. With J.T. Tiller spearheading the attack, the Tigers averaged over 10 steals per game.

Defense and a more efficient, selfless offense to led to many easy buckets for Anderson's club. Led by the three seniors, who combined to average over 40 points per game, Missouri shot over 47-percent from the field.

And somehow, somewhere there is something that depth, maturity and talent cannot account for. Despite not experiencing collegiate success, this team knew how to win.

This was embodied best by junior-transfer Zaire Taylor. Taylor quietly averaged over six points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal per game. His numbers do not jump off the page, but what the numbers do not show is the steadying presence Taylor gave the Tigers from the point guard position.

What the stats do not show is how he steadily improved his three-point shot throughout the season. And most importantly, what cannot be seen by the numbers is the confidence Taylor helped give this team.

He was not afraid to stick the dagger in the Jayhawks or the Longhorns and he certainly was not backing down as he smiled at University of Connecticut guard AJ Price in the final seconds of the first half in their Elite Eight showdown.

While Taylor and Tiller will return next season, Anderson and his staff will lose three starters in Carroll, Lawrence and Lyons. In Carroll and Lyons, the Tigers lose their two leading scorers and part of the soul of this great team. In Lawrence, Missouri loses one of the best three-point shooters in Tiger history.

As Anderson looks fill in the departing pieces of the puzzle, it will be interesting to see what his peers have to say before next season starts.

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