A couple of weeks ago, I answered a question about the 2010-11 basketball Tigers by saying that we'd have to see who was going to be on the team before I could talk about who might be playing, and what the Tigers would look like.
Now that the names of this year's team members have been revealed, maybe a little sooner than I had expected, it's time to take a very early stab at what this team might look like. Five or six months from now, maybe I'll do this again, but for now, here's kind of what I think the Tigers may look like.
First, I'll talk about the backcourt, because that seems a little more settled. Returning players, Kim English (24.1 min/gm), Marcus Denmon (21 min/gm), and Mike Dixon (16.6 min/gm) played a lot last year, and I would expect that they will begin the season as the starters for Missouri. I would expect Dixon's and Denmon's minutes to increase next season, especially Dixon's, with a likely increase to at least 20 min/game.
Phil Pressey will likely play close to 20 min/gm, as well. While I expect to see Phil Pressey and Dixon share the point guard job, I think we could see some limited court time with both Phil Pressey and Dixon on the floor together. The latter scenario may depend more on the play of Phil's brother Matt. If Matt is capable of giving the Tigers about 20 min/gm next season, then it might not be necessary for the point guards to play together very much. I haven't seen very much of Matt, but I do expect him to arrive on campus in June, and that should prepare him physically to play close to 20 min/gm in his first year at Missouri. The remaining question is whether or not he'll be able to earn that many minutes with his play. I'm pretty confident that both Matt and Phil Pressey will each see at least as many minutes as Mike Dixon played last season. They'll bring a somewhat different look to the Tigers than departed seniors, J.T. Tiller and Zaire
Taylor. That will include an upgrade on the offensive end, although it probably also represents a step back defensively. The Presseys will excel in the full court game.
I think that Ricky Kreklow will play during his freshman season. I just don't know how much. He could see limited time, or he could step up and earn 10-15 min/gm. I'm going to guess on the lower side.
This group of guards is different than the ones just departed. I think it's reasonable to expect that, as a group, the Tigers' 2010-11 backcourt will provide as much or more scoring than in 2009-10, but it's also reasonable to say that they won't be as good defensively, especially in the half court. Phil Pressey has the ability to really push the ball offensively, which with the increased depth up front, could really impact the Tigers' ability to increase the tempo of games.
Up front, the Tigers will have increased depth, and plenty of competition for playing time. Justin Safford (20 min/gm), Laurence Bowers (22.5 min/gm), Steve Moore (10.1 min/gm), and Jon Underwood (limited duty) all return from last year's team. Safford will return from recent knee surgery for his senior season, and will likely be somewhat limited early on. As the season progresses, I expect Safford to return to the form he showed this past season. This will be another off-season of training for Bowers and Moore, and Underwood's first full off-season under David Deets guidance, so I expect to see physical improvement in all three by the time next season rolls around.
The Tigers are bringing in three talented newcomers up front, and at present, it remains somewhat unclear as to when, and in what condition, each will arrive. Junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe 6'9" 245 has said that he won't finish up his academic requirements until August, so Ratliffe will miss the first eight weeks of the strength and conditioning work he might have otherwise gotten in under Coach Deets. He appears to be such a talented and advanced player that he should still be good enough to start for the Tigers this season, and will likely be a focal point of Missouri's offensive attack. I would expect Ratliffe to play at least 20 min/gm this season. His conditioning will probably determine how much more than that he'll be able to play.
It's unclear at this time when Tony Mitchell 6'8" 220 will arrive on campus at Missouri. Like any incoming freshman, getting into the strength and conditioning program for the summer is hugely important in preparation for the physical demands of his first season of college ball at Missouri. If Mitchell can get on campus in June, he could be ready to make a major contribution early next fall. If his arrival is delayed, that would erode his chances to be maximally prepared from the get go. But, like Ratliffe, Mitchell is an extraordinarily physically gifted athlete, and even without the ideal amount of off-season conditioning, should still be able to contribute early for the Tigers. Mitchell could start from Day 1, especially if he's able to get in early this summer. At the very least, I would expect Mitchell to play serious minutes for the Tigers this season, approaching that 20 min/gm mark.
Kadeem Green 6'8" 200 will arrive at Missouri in July. He has just recently been able to remove the protective boot which immobilized his lower leg during the earliest stage of his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon. It has previously been reported that Green will be released to fully participate in basketball in the early fall (Oct. 1). I'm sure that Missouri's training staff will have plenty of rehab activities for him prior to that date, once he arrives on campus. I'm not sure how effective Green will be on the basketball court this season for the Tigers. I think it's safe to say that this freshman will have some catching up to do once he's cleared to play. We'll have to wait and see how he progresses. I think it's unlikely that Green will play major minutes for the Tigers this season.
With seven big men competing for playing time at two spots on the floor, it would appear to be crowded. Some have suggested that the Tigers may at times play a line-up that would include three bigs on the floor together. Certainly players like Bowers, Mitchell, Safford, and Ratliffe possess the offensive skills to play away from the basket, and space the floor. While I think we could see the use of such a bigger line-up for limited stretches of time, it doesn't lend itself to the kind of pressure defense that Coach Anderson is going to want to play. In most instances, bigger is going to mean slower, and I believe Coach Anderson will consistently opt for the quicker line-ups, which will usually feature two bigs.
Based on that assessment, I expect to see Ratliffe and either Bowers or Mitchell in the starting line-up this fall, with each of these three logging between 15-25 min/gm. I expect Safford will also be a major part of the Tigers rotation up front, and Moore and Underwood will provide additional minutes off of the bench for the Tigers.
The real questions about this team is how quickly will it fit together into a team, and at what pace will they be able to play, especially once the conference season arrives? How deep into the rotation will Coach Anderson go in the big games? We've seen him shorten his bench in the big games in the past. Will he develop a true 10-11 man rotation, and stick with it, even in the seasons' biggest games against the best competition? If we're ever going to truly see a successful "fastest forty minutes of basketball" at Missouri, it appears that Coach Anderson finally has the horses to do it.