After a fantastic first season -- at least until a shocking loss to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament -- coach Frank Haith and the Tigers are starting over. Missouri bid farewell to five seniors, including All-America Marcus Denmon and all conference selections Kim English and Ricardo Ratliffe. It also said goodbye this offseason to the Big 12 as it officially joined the SEC. Guards Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon are the only Tigers who have logged minutes for Haith, so the team will have a distinctly different look as it wades into its new league. The Tigers regain the services of forward Laurence Bowers, who missed the '11-12 season with a knee injury, and welcome in five recruits and six transfers.
Few imagined Missouri would have the success it did playing without Bowers, after he tore the ACL in his left knee in early October. When last healthy, he was the Tigers' second-leading scorer (11.6 ppg) and top rebounder (6.1 rpg), a versatile forward with good shot-blocking skills, a dependable mid-range jumper and a knack for making highlight plays around the rim. He's taken his recovery slowly and is confident he can regain his old form.
Haith plans on having Bowers mentor freshmen big men Ryan Rosburg and Stefan Jankovic and junior college transfer Tony Criswell. The spring brought an unexpected gift in 6-9, 255-pound transfer Alex Oriakhi, a three-year starter at Connecticut who averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds while anchoring the Huskies' frontline during their national championship season in 2011-12.
Pressey will once again bring his ability to break down the defense off the dribble and find the open man to the Tigers. That could certainly benefit Dixon (13.5 ppg), the team's sixth man last season, who seems poised to step into the starting lineup and assume a bigger scoring load. Earnest Ross, a transfer from Auburn, could fill the other open spot on the perimeter. He led Auburn in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 ppg) as a sophomore. Keion Bell, an athletic combo guard who averaged 16.4 points over three seasons at Pepperdine, could occupy Dixon's old role off the bench.
Oriakhi will provide muscle and experience inside as the team's starting center. Fellow transfers Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown -- once he becomes eligible in December -- will be counted on for offense from the wing with one of them likely starting. Tony Criswell, Ryan Rosburg and Stefan Jankovic should add depth along the frontline, though Jankovic also has the ability to stretch the defense with his shooting. Negus Webster-Chan brings good size and skill to the wing, while Dominique Bull's strength is as a hard-nosed defender.
Missouri players believe they won't just have more bodies this season but also more talent. But to have a chance to exceed last season's accomplishments, they will also have to match the chemistry so integral to that success. The additional options could make it harder for players to fit into defined roles, but if Haith can get them to play together, the Tigers should be a more well-rounded team.