Every college basketball fan needs to know about the job that Missouri men's basketball coach Mike Anderson has done this year alone. Disregarding the millions of off-court and behavioral issues that Anderson not only inherited from ex-coach Quin Snyder and even from juco players he signed when his tenure began, his job this season has been as impressive as any in college basketball.
If Anderson isn't coach of the year IN THE NATION, he's coach of the year in the Big 12 at least.
This is a Missouri team that didn't receive A SINGLE vote in the AP Poll in it's first edition. They were almost universally picked to finish around seventh in the Big 12, if not lower. But now they are sitting pretty, with a 23-4 overall, 10-2 conference record, heading into a tough home match-up with the Kansas State Wildcats tonight.
So what are the strengths and weaknesses of this (thus far) impressive Missouri team heading into their final conference games and the Big 12 tournament? Everybody knows about their "40 Minutes of Hell" style, but what are effective and reckless ways to attack that game plan? We'll take a look.
Missouri plays a DEEP team. It's not uncommon to see the tenth and 11th man off their bench to come into the game and not only play, but make a real impact.
Laurence Bowers has often been the fifth forward off the bench this season, yet he's been on ESPN's Top Plays more than once this season. Miguel Paul is the sixth guard on the depth chart, yet he played 14 minutes as recently as two weeks ago against Nebraska.
This team, especially with it's style of play, wears teams down and wins the last few minutes of the ball game, if not the last half of the game. Especially come Tournament time, when young players start to lose their legs, the Tigers' depth will help them.
Not only does Missouri have a few of long-range bombers in Kimmie English, Marcus Denmon, and Matt Lawrence, they also have big men that can stretch the floor with their shooting in Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll. This allows for numerous matchup problems, as Mizzou can draw lumbering post players outside of their comfort zone or force opposing guards to chase their shooters all over the gym.
Their shooting is among the tops in the country, listed at seventh with a 47.9 field goal percentage, but their shooting defense is also some of the best. Missouri definitely defends the shot well with their tenacious defense, but also can punish their opponents. Come March, those are the types of characteristics that you look for as advantages.
The Front-Court Steel Curtain
There is no stat to show it, but starting guards Zaire Taylor and JT Tiller are among the best defenders in the Big 12. Outside of the Kansas State game earlier this season, Tiller and Taylor have played exceptionally in conference play, causing guards such as Sheron Collins, Curtis Jerrells, AJ Abrams and Byron Eaton to play well below the level they're capable of.
As mentioned, college players tend to get tired by the end of their season, and this is something that can play into Missouri's strengths. Individuals like Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Jeff Teague, and guard-heavy squads like Duke and Marquette will certainly have a tough time playing against the lockdown defense of Tiller and Taylor.
Too Many Frosh(?)
Although it helps with their depth, the freshman on Missouri can also lead to frequent mistakes and streaky play.
Take the lone freshman starter Kimmie English. He put up 16 points, five boards, and four assists against Iowa State, and two games later had zero points, two rebounds, and a turnover. Marcus Denmon is another example. Before consecutive double-digits games recently, he had zero points against Kansas.
The freshman on Missouri (English, Denmon, Paul, Bowers, Moore) certainly are improving and have bright futures, but will they sink or swim in Tournament? Only time will tell.
Hulking big men
Dexter Pittman, Cole Aldrich, Craig Brackins, and Mike Davis are all talented, but the difference is how much better Pittman played over his average for the season. The other thing that sets Pittman apart? About 30 pounds and a whole lot of stamina.
Pittman averages only 8.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on the season, but he dropped 25 and seven on the Tigers in Austin. If the Tigers run into a massive post player like Hasheem Thabeet, DeJuan Blair, or even Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, it could be a long night for Mizzou's tiny front court.
Although Missouri does play a lot of players, they run and push the basketball for every second of the game. Is there anyway that this type of game plan could slow the Tigers down come Tourney time? Although Mike Anderson is certainly a guy who seems to know what he's doing, fatigue could become an issue as the season rolls on.