Many things have gone right for the Missouri Tigers on their way to a blistering 12-0 start in non-conference play, including a lot of things that didn't look very likely before the season started.
Matt Pressey has actually developed an aggressive offensive game to take pressure off Kim English and Marcus Denmon when the shots aren't falling. Ricardo Ratliffe continues to shoot at a torrid pace. Mike Dixon has decided he can be an elite scorer as well.
All those things are interesting developments for this experienced squad that had to improve internally if they wanted to bounce back from a disappointing 2010-2011 year, but none is more interesting than the newfound effectiveness of the formerly over-aggressive center Steve Moore.
The 6-10 Moore finished with more fouls than points in each of his first three seasons at Mizzou (just think about how ridiculous that is), but never played a huge role and always averaged less than 11.5 minutes per game before this, his senior year.
He wasn't even supposed to be a player the Tigers desperately needed to win this year, but then Laurence Bowers went down with a season-ending knee injury and Moore was thrust into the sole backup role behind Ricardo Ratliffe.
After Frank Haith and the coaching staff made it clear that they would run a lot of four-guard sets because of the absence of Bowers, Moore looked like he would still primarily be a sub that would only average 10-12 minutes per game.
Instead, Moore has forced his way into the lineup for over 16 minutes per game with incredible hustle, an improving feel for defense around the rim and a more diverse offensive arsenal.
He has doubled his usage on offense, averaging 2.4 field goal attempts and 4.2 points per game compared to the 1.3 attempts and 2.0 points he averaged in 2010-2011.
Looking at those numbers, you might shrug Moore aside as an inconsequential player on the Tigers who shouldn't make too much of an effect in Big 12 play against more physical centers, since he got these numbers in a less competitive non-conference schedule.
But when you see the progress Moore has made and the impact he has had in big games for Mizzou this year, you might think differently. Check out his 10-point, 3-block, 3-steal effort against California in the Tigers' biggest win of the year.
Most recently, Moore made his presence known with a team MVP-type effort in the Braggin' Rights game against Illinois. With Ricardo Ratliffe in early foul trouble, Steve Moore took control of the post and played an unusually high 21 minutes. While he only scored 2 points, he pulled down 5 boards (3 offensive), recorded 3 huge blocks while defensively suffocating an all-conference talent in Meyers Leonard.
Those stats don't even tell the whole story. You will see Moore diving for a loose ball at least once per game, giving his team extra possessions on a nightly basis. His teammates certainly notice the effort and always come to excitedly help him up or congratulate him after a taken charge or a block. He is the energy guy that all great teams seem to have, but he is expanding his role to one of an actual offensive and defensive contributor.
Moore, the player who used to receive chants of "STEEEEEEEEVE" in a mocking tone, now hears "STEEEEEEEEVE" ring through Mizzou Arena in chants of appreciation for hustle plays, great blocks or even one of his rare, but exciting, 3-pointers.
Moore is one of the many reasons this Tiger team is incredibly fun to watch, but he could also be a big reason that this team makes the school's first trip to the Final Four.
Missouri finishes up their non-conference slate tonight with a road game against Old Dominion (6-6). Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. CT.
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