After sweeping a home and home with Missouri over the past two seasons, Xavier will now meet the Tigers again in
Puerto Rico Orlando and try to make it three wins in a row, Crosstown Shootout-style.
The Tigers have been in a rebuilding holding pattern for the last two seasons, and have managed only 6 SEC wins over that span. A 2-14 collapse to end last season did not leave a lot of positives around which to rally, but a preseason tour of Italy (not the entrée at Olive Garden) may have the players rallied and ready to turn things around.
Kim Anderson took over from Frank Haith two years ago after piloting the Central Missouri Mules to a 30 win season and a national title. Anderson was a decorated player at Mizzou in the 70’s, winning Big 8 player of the year honors in 1977 and served as an assistant on the coaching staff later before branching out to make a name for himself. He finally has his hands on what seems to be the job he has wanted for most of his career, but this season his rebuilding experiment has to make strides on the court for him to keep it.
Anderson has preached defense since coming to Columbia and his teams have tended to make things as hard as a team that can only win 3 conference games a year can for shooters. They ranked in the top-150 on defense in both 2 and 3 point percentage last season, coming in at 119th in opponent’s eFG%. What hamstrung them was their mediocre ability to kill possessions and resolute refusal to steal the ball from opponents. Anderson does highlight character in his teams, but I doubt that is what he means. On offense, the Tigers crippled by the fact they couldn’t shoot field goals from any range, rebound, or take care of the ball. They did get to the line a lot and converted at a respectable 70% rate, which was basically their only threat on offense.
Having spent two seasons underwhelming at UM, guard Namon Wright departed for the mountain-ier pastures of Colorado to see if he can put it all together in Boulder. Wright got 9.6/5.2/1.3 on .355/.315/.761 last season as a starter, and signed off with 19 against Florida in front of a home crowd having had his best game at home against Florida in both seasons. Joining him on his way out of Columbia is guard Tramaine Isabell, a Seattle product who originally signed to Gonzaga. Isabell came off the bench mostly and posted an 87.2 ORtg, being a gunner who shot .378/.255/.737.
Departing the natural way is graduating center Ryan Rosburg who led Missouri in ORtg with 113.5 last year, due largely to his .626 field goal percentage. However, his effectiveness was typically tempered by the fact he couldn’t shoot free throws and loved to foul. Speaking of how things usually go, Wes Clark also featured against X last season before either being dismissed from or quitting the team (reports differ) and requesting a transfer and not finding a landing place. Clark was a pretty effective point in his time at Mizzou, although not effective enough to find somewhere else to expend his eligibility.
The Tigers return their leading scorer in 6’7" forward Kevin Puryear, a rising sophomore who did a little bit of everything on his way to 11.5/4.6/0.4 in an impressive freshman campaign. He managed an ORtg of 104.3 and had 23 and 22 point performances at Arkansas and Alabama, respectively. Classmate Terrence Phillips, a 5’11" guard, showed enough flashes of talent to indicate there might be a bright future for him. His 7.8/4.2/3.5 line shows his commitment to the glass and his nose for the ball, a theory supported by his 2.8 steal rate. Phillips did struggle to shoot the ball well with a line of .382/.322/.722, but carried the team a times, such as his 15/7/4 against South Carolina in Mizzou’s final win of the season.
Fighting to fill a starting spot this season will be KJ Walton, who used limited playing time to make a decent case last year. Walton’s .367 from three was second on the team behind Clark, and he saw upticks to his pretty pedestrian rebounding numbers in conference play. At 6’3", Walton seems a logical pair for Phillips in the back court. Also returning from the rotation is Missouri native Cullen VanLeer, who coupled an impressive 10.9 turnover rate with a .326/.273/.625 shooting line and an 8.9 assist rate. He did lead the team in scoring in their summer tour and is in the mix for a major upgrade in playing time.
The eye-catchers on Missouri’s incoming class will be their pair of freshmen from Garfield Heights in Cleveland, 6’6" forward Willie Jackson and 6’4" guard Frankie Hughes. Jackson is a 3-star recruit and brings a college ready body to the table, which he uses to get his way on the glass. He averaged 9.8 rebounds per game in Italy and figures to give the Tigers some much needed muscle in the lane. Hughes is also a 3-star recruit who de-committed from Louisville before heading to Missouri. Hughes has a reputation as a solid knockdown shooter and offers the Tigers a boost in both size and athleticism in the back court.
Joining Missouri this season as a sophomore is guard Jordan Geist, a former track star from Pennsylvania, who’s history with the shot put obviously makes him a threat to knock down a shot at any range. His lone season at Ranger College was a good one, starring for former Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie’s squad and being named a second-team NJCAA All-American. Geist’s main strength was his shooting ability, which saw him knock down 35% of his threes, adding a useful shooter for the Tigers.
Missouri might not be the world beaters they were in the early 2010’s under Mike Anderson and Frank Haith, but there is reason to believe that this young squad can bring some measure of good times back to Columbia before they are done. It might not be this season, but there are pieces of a good team forming here.