The mood among Missouri basketball fans was a blend of disappointment and disbelief when they learned athletic director Mike Alden had tapped Miamiâs Frank Haith to succeed Mike Anderson last April. Only days earlier, theyâd started dreaming about Purdueâs Matt Painter, a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, taking the reins, but after taking 24 hours to mull over a move to Columbia, Mo., he signed a lucrative extension to remain at his alma mater.
So Alden turned to Haith, thought to be on the hot seat with the Hurricanes after seven seasons that included one NCAA Tournament appearance and a 43â69 mark against ACC competition. Most fans wondered why they should believe heâd fare any better in the Big 12.
That still might be a reasonable question to ask long term. But Haith, a one-time understudy of Rick Barnes at Texas, is set up fairly well for success in his first season at Missouri. The Tigers feature a senior-laden nucleus, highlighted by first-team All-Big 12 guard Marcus Denmon, that reached the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season.
Key Tigers Stat: 24
With 24 more victories, seniors Marcus Denmon, Laurence Bowers, Kim English and Steve Moore will make up the winningest class in Missouri history. They have won 77 games in their first three years.
Haith prefers attacking opponents inside-out, a change from Andersonâs more wide open motion attack. The shift could benefit senior Ricardo Ratliffe, who showed an effective back-to-the-basket game last season when teammates looked to him on the low block. The 6'9" Ratliffe isnât overly athletic, which can prove limiting against taller defenders.
The Tigers suffered a significant setback in early October when high-flying senior Laurence Bowers went down with a torn ACL in a pickup game. Bowers, a lightly recruited Memphis native, had developed into one of the top big men in the Big 12 ââ a force on both ends of the court.
Bowersâ absence will require senior Steve Moore to make a larger-than-expected contribution. He provides good size and is a sound, albeit slow-footed, defender. He was used primarily as a screener in his limited time (11.4 mpg)âlast season, but he will be asked to contribute a bit more on the offensive end in his final season.
Redshirt freshman Kadeem Green, a native of Canada who is finally healthy after rupturing his Achilles tendon as a high school senior, is raw but could prove useful off the bench because of his shot-blocking skills.
Denmon, a breakout star last season when he averaged 16.9 points, was quite simply one of the most efficient players in the country, shooting 50 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from 3-point range while committing 32 turnovers in 34 games. A Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, Denmon will be even harder to guard if he can incorporate a mid-range jumper into his game with more regularity.
Denmon is sure to see more attention, so the Tigers will need a better year from classmate Kim English, who saw his scoring average drop from 14.0 points as a sophomore to 10.0 last season. Never a high-percentage shooter, he shot a career-low 36.6 percent from the floor.
The Tigers have solid options directing the offense in junior Michael Dixon and sophomore Phil Pressey. The 6'1" Dixon was one of the Big 12âs leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 10.3 points. The 5'10" Pressey, a crafty playmaker with exceptional quickness, showed a better than expected jumper, hitting 41.8 percent of his 3-point attempts in league play. Their lack of size can hurt defensively as they sometimes struggle to keep opposing guards out of the paint.
Senior Matt Pressey should provide depth on the wing.
Missouri appears to have plenty of offensive punch, as it did last season when the team ranked 10th nationally in scoring (80.8 ppg). But how good the Tigers can be will depend on how quickly they adjust to the slower pace Haith will have them playing and if they can do a better job rebounding and getting stops. During Big 12 play, they were outrebounded by an average of five per game and allowed opponents to shoot better than 45 percent from the field. If the new coach can shore up those weaknesses, Missouri has enough talent and experience to contend in a rebuilding Big 12. Anything less than an NCAA Tournament appearance would be a disappointment, and seniors Denmon and English â part of the Tigersâ Elite Eight team in 2009 â would really like to make a long run in their final college season.
Big 12 Prediction: 4th
NCAA Tournament Prediction: Two & Out