There's a lot to like the Missouri Tigers basketball team after the tremendous success they've had in the last few years under Mike Anderson. Last year, the Tigers faltered down the stretch, including losses in four of their last six contests, but redeemed themselves a bit with an unexpected first round win in the NCAA Tournament against the favored Clemson Tigers. It served as a reminder of just how talented Missouri can be under Anderson's tutelage and high octane attack.
So where do the Tigers rank coming into the 2010-11 season? Most sportswriters and insiders have them ranked in the upper half of the Big 12 but away from the top alongside Kansas State and Kansas. Such expectations center on the tension between a couple of ideas. On the upside, the All-American probable Kim English enters his junior season with big expectations after a breakout season that included some incredible games against Texas Tech, Illinois, and at Colorado. In total, the 6'6" guard should elevate his game even more and attract some NBA attention with his sweet scoring touch.
The downside, however, is that this inexperienced team performed so poorly down the stretch and only return one senior (forward Josh Safford, returning from an ACL injury from last February). But tremendous guard play in what should be one of the country's top backcourts keeps hopes elevated, especially with new recruit Phil Pressey. The cream of Mizzou's recruiting crop, Tony Mitchell, would only add to the dynamism of the team with his incredible athleticism, scoring ability and court vision, but for now those will have to wait until second semester at the earliest with academic issues.
Still enough of an interior presence remains with the underrated Laurence Bowers' 6'8" frame and large wingspan. At the next level, he might play out as a bigger perimeter presence, but he still has enough bulk to cause match-up problems with his athleticism and size. Added to this is highly regarded JuCo recruit, Ricardo Ratliffe, who should bring a powerful presence in the paint and might be the best new big in the conference.
All in all, Missouri lacks the returning talent of some of their conference rivals and the well-rounded games of others, yet it's a mistake to discount the Tigers in any conversation involving possible Big 12 champions. Anderson's teams are always confident and aggressive and if some of the new pieces can find their spot in Missouri's celebrated system, Anderson might have reloaded rather quickly. Even more, if Mitchell returns for the second half, last season's fade should become a surge toward the tournament.