Lost in all of the excitement of Missouri's 7-0 start, No. 10 ranking in the AP poll and lights-out shooting from Marcus Denmon and Kim English has been the solid and steady point guard play from sophomore sensation Phil Pressey.
The most critical player needed when building successful basketball team is the point guard, and Pressey has been critically important on both ends of the court for the Tigers so far this year. While Denmon, English and Ricardo Rattlife have been scoring all the points and taking all the glory, it's Pressey who is setting them up in the right spots and taking care of the ball.
Over the last two contests, Pressey has dished out 17 assists while only turning the ball over two times. That is an incredible ratio, especially because he touches the ball on nearly every possession and is almost solely responsible for distributing the ball to any one of the great shooters in the Tigers' spot-up offense when he is on the floor.
Pressey has also had to adjust to a drastic change in the style of play that Missouri has. Instead of "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball," the Tigers now work out of a 4-guard lineup that works from the inside (focusing on Ricardo Ratliffe) out to the talented guards.
Instead of being stubborn and staying in the quick-minded ways of last year, Pressey has actually adjusted to the offense well and is playing way more under control and performing better because of it. This year, his turnover numbers have decreased minimally (from 2.2 to 2.0) while his assists have seen a nice increase (3.9 to 4.9), even as he has seen significantly more minutes per game (22.3 to 29.4).
Pressey has been the engine that makes things go for Missouri basketball this year because of his great work distributing the ball, but he has also been extremely effective as a scorer, either when he needs to be or when he decides to be.
Out of the seven games the Tigers have played thus far, Pressey has attempted over 10 field goals in three of them and six or fewer in the other four. That stat doesn't sound like much, especially with no context, but you certainly notice early in the game if it's an attacking game for Pressey, or more of a distributing game.
For example, in the game against Notre Dame, Pressey completely took over the game offensively at one point, driving the lane on nearly every possession and attacking the zone defense of the Fighting Irish. This shows his intelligence and understanding of good offense, which is very impressive considering he is only a sophomore.
It's because of this intelligence that the Tigers are getting so many good shots and scoring so many points early in the season. Missouri is sixth in the nation in points per game so far (86.3) and fifth in field goal percentage (52.5%). All this is coming without a negative residual effect on the swarming defense the Tigers have become known for (averaging 11 steals per game compared to 10 last year).
The improvement from Pressey isn't a shock, either. After coming to Mizzou as a top 50 recruit in the nation, he struggled with wild play at times in his freshman year while showing flashes of brilliance. In the natural progression of athletes, those wild plays start to go away as players get older and more mature. With Pressey's immense talent, expect leaps and bounds to be made in terms of production in his remaining three years at Missouri
Check out Pressey and the Tigers on ESPN tonight as they take on the Villanova Wildcats (5-2) in the Jimmy V Classic. Coverage starts at 6 p.m.