Missouri Tigers Basketball: 7 Reasons the Tigers Will Be Better Than Last Year
Missouri Tigers basketball coach Frank Haith has quite a job on his hands as he prepares for his second season on the bench in Columbia.
Last year's senior-laden squad notched a school record 30 victories, but Haith's Tigers were bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Norfolk State in what may be one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history.
Haith must try and rebuild after the devastating loss, and, unfortunately, players like Marcus Denmon and Kim English are not around to help.
Luckily for Mizzou hoops fans, Haith has prepared this year's team to be better than last.
Here are seven reason why this year's Mizzou team will be better than in 2012.
1. Point Guard Phil Pressey Is Now the Leader
With Denmon, English, Ricardo Ratliffe and his brother Matt Pressey all gone to graduation, Mizzou junior point guard Phil Pressey becomes the true leader of the Tigers this season.
Expectations for Pressey are high. Pressey was selected as the SEC Preseason Player of the Year.
Coming off a season where he averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 assists per game as a sophomore, Pressey enters the year as possibly the best floor general not only in the SEC, but possibly in the entire nation.
There is reason to believe that Pressey can get better too.
Pressey shot just 36.5 percent from behind the arc as a sophomore, and after attending the LeBron James Skills Academy this summer, Pressey may be able to improve on his shooting and decision making even further this year.
With Pressey in control and as the leader of the team, look for the Mizzou defensive pressure to expand and for the offense to remain high octane as Pressey is at his best in the open floor.
2. Laurence Bowers Returns from Knee Injury
While it may be Pressey's team, Laurence Bowers will return as possibly one of the team's most experienced players.
The 6'9'' power forward returns to the lineup to give Haith not only an athletic big man that can get out in the open floor and score the ball, but also a defensive stalwart that can grab rebounds and block shots.
The former All-Big 12 Defensive Team selection is fourth all time in career blocked shots in school history with 123 swats in his first three seasons.
Bowers also has a nice scoring touch, averaging 11.6 points per game two seasons ago. Bowers is capable of knocking down 15 to 18 foot jump shots and can attack the rim with highlight-reel dunks.
Bowers gives Mizzou the athleticism and size on the frontcourt they lacked last year and should be a force in the paint for Mizzou this season.
3. Alex Oriakhi Gives Tigers a Force in the Middle
Speaking of size, that is exactly what senior center Alex Oriakhi will bring to Mizzou this season.
After finding out that UConn would be ineligible for postseason play, the 6'9'', 255 pound former Huskies big man made the move to Columbia to center Haith's uber-talented, up-tempo team.
Oriakhi will never be confused as a great offensive player, averaging just 7.2 points per game during his time at UConn.
Oriakhi's contribution will come on the defensive end and on the boards. He figures to anchor the aggressive, opportunistic Mizzou defense as an intimidating presence in the middle and be a monster on the offensive boards to aid the Mizzou high octane offense when they miss from the outside.
Oriakhi also brings experience as a member of the UConn team that won the National Championship in 2011.
4. Michael Dixon Is One of the Most Explosive Scorers in the SEC.
While point guard Phil Pressey is an exciting playmaker, Dixon may be the engine that makes the Mizzou offense literally run.
Serving as the sixth-man last season, Dixon looks to play a bigger role and possibly start next to Pressey to give Haith's Tigers one of the most explosive, quickest and dangerous backcourts in the country.
Dixon averaged 13.5 points per game off the bench for the Tigers last season and is a triple threat offensively.
Dixon fearlessly penetrates and attacks the rim, making acrobatic shots look easy. Dixon also finds himself on the free-throw line regularly, where he shot a stellar 87.6 percent last season. Finally, Dixon does not have a conscience when it comes to pulling the trigger from the outside and knocked down 50 long-range bombs from behind the arc last year.
Dixon does have a cloud of uncertainty surrounding him though as the senior has been suspended (via KansasCity.com) indefinitely by Haith for what many believe are classroom issues.
Once Dixon is back on the floor, he will be a dangerous offensive force for Mizzou.
5. Talented Group of Transfers Bring Experience and Athleticism
Center Oriakhi is not the only high-profile transfer Haith has brought in to reload.
Haith has assembled a group of transfers capable of starting for many other teams in the country, and these players should integrate with Pressey, Dixon and Bowers nicely.
Junior forward Earnest Ross comes to Mizzou from Auburn as a physical wing player who is strong in all facets of the game. Ross averaged 6.6 rebounds per game during his sophomore season at Auburn and has already shown a three-point touch during Mizzou's exhibition opener.
Senior guard Keion Bell comes to Mizzou from Pepperdine and has a reputation of scoring in bunches. Bell, who turned heads by dunking over six people during the team's Midnight Madness event, averaged 18.9 points per game during his last year at Pepperdine and figures to rotate in with Pressey and Dixon to give Mizzou an even more explosive backcourt.
Sophomore Jabari Brown was once a highly touted recruit before he left Oregon after just two games. Brown will not be eligible until the second semester, but will give Haith yet another athletic weapon to utilize once SEC play begins.
Finally, Tony Criswell and Danny Feldman also transferred to Mizzou and will give the Tigers added depth and size in the post.
6. Size and Depth Will Allow Tigers to Play More Aggressive Defense
Last season, Haith only had seven players in his regular rotation, and a majority of the time he implemented a lineup that routinely had four guards on the floor at the same time.
Haith did a wonderful job of carrying over former coach Mike Anderson's "Fastest 40 Minutes" philosophy and bottling that into a half-court defense that was still able to create turnovers and cause havoc.
With the pesky play of both Pressey and Dixon returning coupled with the presence of Bowers in the middle, along with the brigade of talented transfers in the mix, Mizzou is deep, athletic and big enough to really get after opposing teams on the defensive end.
7. Mizzou's New Friends in the SEC Are Unfamiliar with the Tigers
For years, Mizzou was cast in the shadow of their bitter rivals, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Now, no longer a part of the Big 12, Mizzou looks to build new rivalries in the SEC.
Conquering the SEC will not be easy with the likes of Kentucky and Florida serving as traditional powers.
Mizzou immediately enters their new conference as one of the top programs. The media has already picked the Tigers to finish third in the league and Mizzou matches up nicely with both Kentucky and Florida.
Mizzou may also be able to prey upon the bottom-part of the conference, which as a whole is weaker than the bottom-half of the Big 12.
SEC teams, with the exception of Anderson's Arkansas Razorbacks team, will be unfamiliar with Mizzou's scrappy defense and transition-offensive game, which could give Haith's squad an advantage in their first season in the SEC.
Conclusion: Mizzou Will Be a Force This Season
Mizzou hoisted a Big 12 Tournament Championship trophy last year before succumbing early in the NCAA Tournament, and this year's squad is armed and ready to improve upon that performance.
There is no guarantee that Mizzou will be able to hoist any conference trophies during their first season in the SEC, but there is plenty of reason to believe that this year's version of the Tigers will be better than the 30-win team from a year before.
Haith has quite a job on his hands, but he does have the horses to be one of the best team's in the nation again this season.