Six games into the season, and after having come away from the Bahamas with wins over a pair of likely NCAA Tournament entries, it appears that Coach Haith is learning about his team, and this year's edition of the Tigers are beginning to come into focus.
But, with a pair of player additions looming in the near future, this team is still in its early formative stages.
I found the evolution of Missouri's playing rotation in the Bahamas to be very interesting. Against VCU's pressure, Phil Pressey played over 39 minutes, and Negus Webster-Chan played 36 minutes. Bowers played 32 minutes against VCU, and Alex Oriakhi played 29 minutes. Those are the top four in minutes played on the season for Missouri. Against VCU, Webster-Chan was in the starting line-up for the first time this season. Webster-Chan has established himself as Missouri's best perimeter defender, and he plays with a high basketball IQ that sets him apart from some of the other Tigers. In his 36 minutes against VCU's pressure, Webster-Chan finished up with 12 points on 4-8 shooting, and grabbed 5 rebounds, and had 1 assist and just 1 turnover.
Another interesting development was the emergence of Tony Criswell as a more significant part of Mizzou's playing rotation. Criswell played just 16 minutes against VCU, which is his season average. But, he was on the floor at the end, when the game was being decided. And, he took the charge in the lane that provided the Tigers with the needed defensive stop. There's some irony in Coach Haith's decision to go with Criswell over Oriakhi down the stretch against VCU, particularly because most would probably consider Oriakhi to be the better all-around defender. It may have been a decision based on match-ups. But, it's clear that Criswell, who pulled down 7 rebounds against VCU, figures in prominently in Coach Haith's playing rotation.
It was also interesting that Keion Bell was on the floor at crunch time instead of Earnest Ross. Of course, someone has to sit, and in the second half, Bell had played about as well as he has all season. Each of Ross and Bell played 22 minutes against VCU, and Ross hit a trio of 3-PT shots in the second half for the Tigers, but Bell was moving without the basketball and cutting or slashing to the bucket. After Ross missed an ill-advise 3-PT shot taken very early in the shot clock, Coach Haith gave him a stare. Bell came back in and Ross watched from the bench.
Each of Ross and Bell have their moments. They can both help this team, although I think they both play the same position, and they both may end up coming off of the bench this season. Neither of them play with a high basketball IQ, and it doesn't appear to be effective to play both of them at the same time.
At times, each of Bell and Ross appear to be making improvements, enough to make me think that maybe they'll learn and adapt to roles that will help this team win. For now, until Dixon and Brown are on the floor, Ross and Bell can split time at the small forward spot, and Bell will have to continue to help out in the back court, as well, although it's clear to me that he can be most effective slashing from closer to the basket, and moving without the basketball while matching up with slightly bigger players.
Against VCU, Rosburg and Jankovic played extremely limited minutes. The extended crunch time minutes with Bowers and Criswell on the floor together suggests that Criswell will be called upon to back up both of Bowers and Oriakhi, which may leave fewer minutes for the two freshmen bigs. Once Brown and Dixon are playing, I doubt that there will be playing time for Jankovic at the three. I think it's a good idea to get those two as much playing time as possible though, especially against weaker competition, so that they'll be somewhat useful later in the season.