After being plagued by a number of offseason problems last season, the Missouri Tigers men's basketball team is infused with fresh blood and talent, ready to truly let head coach Mike Anderson's reign begin in Columbia.
With the Tigers expected to begin play this weekend against some All-Star teams in Canada, it's high time that college basketball fans get their information on this year's team.
Gone quick fixes Stefon Hannah, Vaidatos Volkus, and Darryl Butterfield, and troubled guards Keon Lawrence and Jason Horton. Anderson finally has a big class of freshmen that he recruited to work with, and hopefully the style and talents of these young men will adhere to his style of play, making the Tigers post-season eligible for the first time since 2004-2005.
Along with the five freshmen and one juco addition new to the scene in 2008-2009, Delaware transfer Zaire Taylor brings a more seasoned and ready look. Taylor is a big guard at 6'4'', and has the tenacity and ability to fit right into Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell" style. He'll definitely contribute immediately, facilitating the offense and hounding the other team's ball handler.
The new kids on the block are all talented, and all should get minutes immediately. Especially guard Miguel Paul. Paul is a flashy guard out of Florida who has fantastic speed and ball skills. He'll compete with Taylor for a starting spot.
Freshmen Marcus Denmon and Kim English are expected to contributed at the off-guard spot, but can also handle the ball. English in particular is expected to come off the bench with his great size, but both will give the Tigers that scoring threat from the outside that they often lacked last season with Hannah suspended.
In the front court, juco transfer Keith Ramsey should be a huge upgrade over Volkus. Ramsey is big, fluid, quick, and aggressive in the paint. Having him around to give Lyons and Carroll a break during foul trouble or fatigue will be really useful for depth purposes.
Big man Steve Moore rounds out the recruiting class, and at 6'10'' he's raw, but has great size. Any experience and development he can gain this year will be a benefit. And Laurence Bowers will be a decent but inexperienced member of a hard-working and tough frontcourt.
Returning Backcourt Experience:
Not much comes back from the Mizzou bookcourt, but that's not really a bad thing. Keon was a talented part of the team, but always had some of his mind back home on the East Coast. And Jason Horton never developed into a respectable scorer or decision-maker.
JT Tiller became a starter during conference play, and should be a slashing threat that the Missouri offense needs. He improved a lot from his freshmen to sophomore year, and making another leap as a junior would put him in All-Big 12 contention.
Returning wing Matt Lawrence needs to come back after a disappointing junior year, in which his three-point percentage dropped dramatically. He should have more help from deep with Paul, Denmon, and English, but Lawrence will be the top threat again this year, and must step up to the plate for the team to contend.
Returning Frontcourt Experience:
This is certainly the strength of the team this season. Leo Lyons flirted with the NBA last season, but wisely returning, as did DeMarre Carroll. Both are powerful post players that can also shoot from the outside, especially Lyons. Sophomore Justin Safford is also an outside threat that can play inside and out.
Lyons and Carroll are definitely the two most talented players on the team, and if both can stay out of foul trouble consistently, the Tigers might just take a step into the postseason this season. Safford was decent and at times good last year. If he's more consistent, he'll get major minutes as an active big body.
Point Guard- Miguel Paul, Zaire Taylor
Off Guard- JT Tiller, Marcus Denmon
Small Forward- Matt Lawrence, Kim English, Justin Safford
Power Forward- DeMarre Carroll, Keith Ramsey, Laurence Bowers
Center- Leo Lyons, Steve Moore
In the backcourt, I see Taylor starting at the point initially, with Paul getting more time as he develops, as Keon did when he was a freshman. Obviously JT Tiller will get the other starting spot. Matt Lawrence will man the wing, but if he plays poorly, Kim English could take the spot from him. And Carroll and Lyon are cemented in the front court.
As far as reserves go, all of the freshmen should see time. CMA (Coach Mike Anderson) has always played a deep bench, and he'll be looking to prove that his recruiting is actually getting somewhere. And Justin Safford will have a larger role in his second year.
Unless the new recruiting class is a lot better then expected, the NCAA Tournament is out of reach for the Tigers. But the NIT is certainly in their grasp, and CMA will need to have something to show for his third season in Columbia. I fully expect the Tigers to roll through their non-conference schedule with only a few bumps, and play around .500 in Big 12 play.
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