Not many people expected a 30-win season from the Missouri Tigers last season. Frank Haith was starting a new gig in the Big 12 and Missouri was predicted to be a top-25 team, nothing more.
But the Tigers surprised us all, won 30 games and finished the season with the sixth-best offense in college basketball. Seven seniors, including five of their top six scorers, led the way.
In 2012-13, Missouri is once again predicted to be a top-25 team, nothing more. A move to the SEC leaves behind historic rivalries but ushers in new challenges.
So, what are the expectations for the 2012-13 Missouri team?
"Our expectation is to continue to play team basketball and the rest will take care of itself," Pressey said.
Last year we were so unselfish and that’s what allowed us to be successful. On paper we are a deeper team this year, but it’s how we share the basketball and play away from home that will determine if we are able have that same type of success.
Pressey led the Tigers in assists last season with 6.4 per game. The Missouri offense was fluid, consisting of four-guard play and thriving on fast-break opportunities.
Because of their wildly successful season, Coach Haith won Coach of the Year honors from the Associated Press and the United States Basketball Writers Association.
I asked Pressey about Coach Haith and his demeanor off the court.
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He has been around the game a long time and has worked for some great coaches. He was at Miami for seven years and he has won at least 20 games four of the last five years, so he brings insight into the game, is a great coach to play for and we feel blessed he is here coaching at Mizzou. One thing I appreciate about Coach Haith is his genuine approach to his players. His players come first to him and if he says something, he makes good on it.
Despite winning 30 games, the Tigers fell 86-84 in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Norfolk State. Pressey told me the loss stings, but they are a "pretty motivated team regardless of one game."
After losing seven seniors, Missouri will rely heavily on recruits and transfers in 2012-13. Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn), Jabari Brown (Oregon) and Alex Oriakhi (Connecticut) are just some of the new faces in the Missouri locker room. They will also return big man Laurence Bowers, who went down last season with an ACL injury.
"It’s been smooth," Pressey said of the merger between old and new players.
"Most of these guys like Jabari, Earnest and Keion were here last year and I have known Alex most of my life, so the transition has been smooth. Being able to start working out in June also has helped and we are in the middle of our pre-Europe workouts."
The Tigers have a five-game tour of Europe later this month.
With time to mesh, the Tigers should be ready to hit the ground running in the SEC this season. Pressey told me what he's looking forward to in SEC next year:
"It will be a new feeling and that's always good. New venues, new players, new coaches and seeing the new traditions at each school. Each fan base is very proud of their team and their alma mater in the SEC, so I can’t wait to experience that."
Where do you think Missouri will finish in the SEC next year?
But the Big 12 had old rivalries that will be tough for the SEC to replace. The Missouri-Kansas rivalry was one of the best in college basketball, one we won't see next year.
Pressey said he will miss the Big 12 "atmospheres and intense rivalries," and that "it will take time for those (rivalries) to develop...opposing fans really seemed to get up when Mizzou came to town."
SEC fans may not know what Missouri brings to the table in basketball. Considering the conference is generally football first, that is expected.
The end of our interview was marked by a family-related question. I asked Phil what he thought of playing with his brother, Matt, and what he will look to prove in his absence next year.
Playing with Matt was great. He is an incredible friend and someone I am proud to have shared two years of my college experience with. He will do great things on and off the basketball court and I am proud to have him as an older brother. As for something to prove, it’s really not about me. We can’t have that mentality. Last year’s team didn’t have it and we won 30 games. There is something to be said for playing unselfish, team basketball. It’s winning basketball.
And win they will. Missouri may have a slew of new faces to learn, but Pressey will once again be the floor general for the Tigers. Pressey says they are a "deeper team on paper, but it’s how we share the basketball and play away from home that will determine if we are able have that same type of success."