Written by Paul Banks of the Washington Times, David Kay and Peter Christian of the The Sports Bank. Send Paul an e-mail here: paulb05 AT hotmail DOT com.
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Missouri Tigers (Last Year: 30-5, 14-4 in Big XII)
2012-13 Projected Depth Chart:
F/C: Alex Oriakhi (Sr)/Tony Criswell (Jr)/Ryan Rosburg (Fr)
F: Laurence Bowers (Sr)/Stefan Jankovic (Fr)
G/F: Earnest Ross (Jr)/Negus Webster-Chan (Fr)
SG: Keion Bell (Sr)/Jabari Brown (So)/Dominique Bull (Fr)
PG: Phil Pressey (Jr)/Michael Dixon (Sr)
SG-Marcus Denmon, G/F-Kim English, PF-Ricardo Ratliffe, SG-Matt Pressey, C-Steve Moore, PF-Kadeem Green (transfer-Ohio)
Despite losing five key contributors from last year's very thin team, the Missouri Tigers should still be a threat in their inaugural season in the SEC thanks to the addition of four transfers and return of Laurence Bowers from injury.
With that being said, point guard Phil Pressey will still be the heartbeat of this Missouri team. He is a blur with the basketball and has a tremendous ability to create for his teammates. Pressey's quickness also works perfectly with the Tigers' aggressive style of pressure defense.
Michael Dixon was expected to move into the starting lineup and provides Missouri with another lightning fast guard capable of handling the rock. However, Dixon was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules prior to the start of the exhibition, and there is no timetable for his return. The Tigers can survive without him for the time being, but his presence on the court as a scorer will be vital to the team's long-term success.
In the meantime, Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell will start at shooting guard with former Auburn wing Earnest Ross being used at the three. Bell has already scored more than 1,300 points during his college career, so you know he can fill it up. Ross relies on his versatility on both ends to make his biggest impact.
Oregon transfer Jabari Brown doesn't become eligible until after the first semester, but will provide a major boost off the bench. Freshman Dominique Bull was also suspended indefinitely, so the Tigers don't have a ton of depth in the backcourt right now. Negus Webster-Chan, a freshman wing played well in their opener versus SIU-Edwardsville and will get plenty of early minutes to contribute right away in a reserve wing role.
Unlike last year, Missouri has quality depth inside. Bowers returns from a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of last season. His length and versatility will serve him well on both ends. Frank Haith also picked up a huge newcomer in Connecticut transfer Alex Oriakhi, who becomes immediately eligible due to the NCAA sanctions on the Huskies program. Oriakhi really struggled last season, but he brings some needed size and strength inside to replace Ricardo Ratliffe.
The additions of JUCO transfer Tony Criswell and freshman Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg afford Haith something that the team just didn't have last year: options inside. Criswell's knack for crashing the glass should earn him quality minutes, while Jankovic's ability to stretch defenses with his outside shooting gives Missouri a stretch four with terrific size.
Haith also picked up a talented transfer in Tulsa combo guard Jordan Clarkson. He must sit out this season per NCAA rules, but will be a very valuable addition in 2013-14 when Dixon and Bell will have exhausted their eligibility.
You could argue the Tigers will actually be more talented this year since they have such quality depth even with the suspension to Dixon. Foul trouble won't be nearly as crippling as it was a season ago, but I can't imagine Missouri being as explosive on the offensive end.
Player to Watch: Phil Pressey, PG
Despite being just a junior, Pressey will probably become the Tigers' all-time leader in assists at some point near the end of this season. He can almost effortlessly breakdown a defender, get in the lane, and either score or dish to an open teammate. Pressey is also one of the best on-the-ball on the ball defenders who can create turnovers. That typically leads to fastbreak opportunities in the open court where Missouri is at its best.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/22 vs. Stanford (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/23 vs. Louisville/Northern Iowa (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/24 vs. Duke/Minnesota/Memphis/VCU
12/22 vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)
12/28 at UCLA
1/5 vs. Bucknell
Predicted SEC Finish: 2nd
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