For a season that was already set to begin with a ton of question marks because of a coaching change and an underperforming season last year, the last thing the Missouri Tigers basketball team needed was a season-ending injury to one of its key seniors.
The Tigers' worst nightmare became reality in a practice last week. Senior forward Laurence Bowers suffered a torn ACL that will force him to miss the 2011-2012 season and prevent him from finishing his senior season with one of the most successful classes in Missouri basketball history.
On a more personal and human level, this is just a really sad situation for Bowers. Coming in as a freshman in 2008 with teammates like Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore, this class changed the landscape of Missouri basketball, helping bring it back from the dark times of scandal, poor play and legal troubles.
How great would it have been to see these guys take a victory lap together and see what kind of noise they could make in another NCAA Tournament? Now with the injury to Bowers, we will never know what kind of season they all would have had together.
Turning to adjusted expectations for the Tigers after the injury, it's hard to see this team being contenders in the Big 12 without its most dynamic post player.
Before the injury, this senior-laden squad had mixed expectations. A bounce back year for the Tigers was not out of the question, especially with new blood at head coach and a new system that some players (see: Kim English) are buying into a lot more than Mike Anderson's Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball.
Still, this team was unbelievably disappointing last year and they don't have many newcomers to inject new life into the team. Frank Haith will probably do a lot of that with his new coaching style, but how much internal improvement can be had on a team with seven seniors? A year similar to last season seemed like a good possibility.
The loss of Bowers means that the Tigers are losing their best defender, best rebounder and most dominant offensive post player. When looking at the situation that simply, it is easy to see that Mizzou is going to struggle to replace him. Even with supposed improvements because of a new system and the senior leadership, this team has taken a gigantic step back because of Bowers' injury.
Depth at forward was thin even with Bowers, and now without him, Mizzou is looking at Steve Moore starting on a regular basis. It's not that Moore is not a valuable player, but if you are relying on him to give you 20-25 solid minutes a game without getting into foul trouble, you are probably in some trouble.
This team will have to rely on the play of its guards that much more because of the absence of Bowers. While that isn't a bad thing because the Tigers have a load of talent at guard, a one-dimensional team is not ideal.
One way the Tigers could temper the effect of this injury is by seeing redshirt freshman forward Kadeem Green make an immediate impact. Green is lanky, just like Bowers was in his freshman season, and has good rebounding and playmaking skills. Scouts saw him as a raw talent, but if he can refine that in any way this season, the Tigers could soften the loss of Bowers more than some national experts think.
Still, looking at the conference standings, I don't see any way that the Tigers can finish above fourth in the conference, while I saw them possibly at second or third before the Bowers injury. This injury obviously stings, but it will be interesting to see how the seniors on this team will react and possibly rally around Bowers this season.
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