Missouri plays a schedule that Coach Norm Stewart calls "professional suicide." The Tigers open against defending national champion North Carolina, have other early-season games with Oregon State, North Carolina State and Marquette and could face North Carolina once more in the Rainbow Classic. Another reason Missouri won't win its first 19 games and finish 27-4, as it did last season, is the fact that Guard Prince Bridges is out until January with a broken right foot.
Nevertheless, senior leaders Center Steve Stipanovich and Guard Jon Sundvold could still earn an unprecedented fourth consecutive Big Eight title. The 6'11" Stipanovich is an excellent passing center, and Sundvold is a playmaker supreme who committed only 50 turnovers in 31 games last season. Both must improve their 12-points-a-game averages to compensate for the graduation of team scoring leader Ricky Frazier, the guy they went to in critical situations. And both must do more on defense because Marvin (Moon) McCrary, who always guarded the opponents' best shooter, is also gone. Clearly, those two will be difficult to replace.
Key members of the supporting cast are Ron Jones, Greg Cavener and Mark Dressier. Jones, a 6'4" forward who replaces McCrary, plays tough but sometimes overly physical defense. "I tend to get overexcited," he says. Cavener, Frazier's successor, is a good offensive rebounder, but he hoists free throws like a shotputter, making 42.5% last season. The 6'6" Dressier is a multipurpose player who will replace Bridges early in the season and later switch effortlessly back to forward.
Stewart preaches loyalty, uses words like "hard-nosed" and insists on unyielding man-to-man defense. But he's also thoroughly modern. This season he's using Frank Boehm, the director of a local psychiatric clinic, to teach the Tigers positive thinking. "They undergo covert rehearsals," says Boehm, "to achieve a strong visual image of what they're like playing at their best." Ideally, a player who used to "lose it" for a few minutes after an opponent beat him on a play will now show improved concentration, and a teammate who had one better-than-normal game will believe he can do it again. "If a player becomes responsible for being intense and concentrating, he can reproduce that game on a fairly regular schedule," says Boehm. This schedule is just what the doctor ordered.