For the Missouri Tigers basketball team, a season full of questions and uncertainty got even more unpredictable when their most indispensable player, Laurence Bowers, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a pre-season practice.
The injury to Bowers comes as a big blow to a position that's depth was already thin. What do the Tigers left and what will they do to minimize this obvious weakness on a team filled with talented guards?
There has been some talk from Frank Haith of Kim English, who stands at 6'6", playing a little bit of the "4" position this year to take advantage of the depth this team has at guard and hide the lack of depth at forward. This brings up a whole different set of questions and concerns, but we'll see how that plays out in the pre-season.
First let's look at what the Tigers actually have at the forward position.
Ricardo Ratliffe, Sr. - 24.5 min, 57.1 FG%, 63.8 FT%, 10.6 pts, 6.0 reb, 1.1 ast, 1.3 blk, 0.2 stl, 1.0 TO, 3.2 PF
The former top-ranked player in junior college, Ricardo Ratliffe came to Mizzou with big expectations last season and didn't disappoint in his first year at the Division 1 level. Ratliffe did show some struggles in adjusting to the physicality of Big 12 play, but he also showed efficiency in scoring down low and actually gave the fast-break Tigers a way to score from the inside. His rebounding and jumping skills left a lot to be desired, but that could be chalked up to his year against top college competition.
With Frank Haith's system now in place and Bowers out for the season, Ratliffe figures to be the most pivotal player for the Missouri Tigers in 2011-2012. Because of these two things, you can expect a substantial increase in points and rebounds for Ratliffe this season. The slowed down style that Frank Haith runs puts emphasis on working inside out, which will result in a lot of one-on-ones for Ratliffe or a lot of kick-out assists when a double-team collapses on him.
Count on Ratliffe being the most important player on the defensive side of the ball as well. Since he might be the only forward on the court at times, he will almost certainly always be shorthanded in the post defensively and will have his hands full with Big 12 forwards like Perry Jones.
Steve Moore, Sr. - 11.5 min, 63.6 FG%, 62.5 FT%, 2.0 pts, 2.3 reb, 0.4 ast, 0.9 blk, 0.3 stl, 0.4 TO, 2.5 PF
Steve Moore actually found a good niche for himself last season, picking up a good amount of rebounds and blocks for the number of minutes he saw per game. Still, the 6'9" forward struggled with playing too aggressive at times, and fouls were a problem for him all season. If he can learn how to play within himself, he has the physical tools to be a good defensive presence with a little offensive game possibly evolving over the course of the season.
Speaking of offense, Moore looked more assertive in Frank Haith's system during the Black and Gold game, putting up seven shots in a healthy 27 minutes, besting his game high of 6 shots last season. Moore also only averaged 11 minutes last year, so it looks like his role will be expanding with the loss of Justin Safford and injury to Bowers. If he can find a couple offensive moves with his back to the basket, he can use his size to draw fouls and score points down low. This fan favorite role player could turn into a more productive and important player in his senior year.
Kadeem Green, RS Fr., Stats - No college stats
Because of a recovering Achilles injury and pretty good depth at forward last year, Kadeem Green took a redshirt in his freshman year to fully recover and get in good basketball shape. Full of athleticism, Green stands at 6-8 and possesses good rebounding skills for his size and has a developing offensive game.
With only 1 intersquad game under his belt, it's hard to see what kind of talent and game Green has at this level, but all signs show that he should be able to compete as a forward at Mizzou.
Green is the true wildcard on this Tiger team. If he steps up and becomes the second forward on the team, it would allow Steve Moore to slide into a role like he had last year, which I'm sure he would be more comfortable with. If he can't play up to the level of Moore, the problem at forward will be a big issue for Missouri next year.
Andy Rosburg, RS Jr., Stats - No college stats
The Tigers were so desperate for bodies at the forward, they came to Rosburg, a member of the school's club basketball team, and asked if he wanted to try out for the big team on campus. He tried out and obviously club officials liked what they saw because they added him to the team for this year.
Looking at this year, who knows what Rosburg could contribute to the team. He will probably only be used in emergency situations or in a Steve Moore 2010-2011 type role, so his success won't be crucial to the team, but I'm sure the Tigers would love if he became a solid contributor. I wouldn't expect too much, though.
With only four players capable of playing forward on this Missouri team, the four-guard lineup that Villanova showed in 2008 could come into play for the Tigers this year. We'll see how Frank Haith juggles his lineup, but there is actually a good amount of room for this group to grow, even with two seniors out of the four forwards.