BREAKDOWN The mood among Missouri basketball fans was a blend of disappointment and disbelief when they learned athletic director Mike Alden had tapped Miami's Frank Haith to succeed Mike Anderson. Only days earlier, they'd dreamt of Purdue's Matt Painter, a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, taking the reins. But after mulling over the move to Columbia, Mo., Painter signed a lucrative extension to remain at his alma mater.
So Alden turned to Haith, thought to be on the hot seat with the Hurricanes after seven seasons that included one NCAA tournament appearance and a 43-69 in ACC play. Most fans wondered why they should believe he'd fare any better in the Big 12.
That still might be a reasonable question to ask long term. But Haith, a one-time understudy of Rick Barnes at Texas, is set up fairly well for success in his first season at Missouri. The Tigers feature a senior-laden nucleus, highlighted by first-team All-Big 12 guard Marcus Denmon.
Denmon, a breakout star last season when he averaged 16.9 points, was one of the most efficient players in the country, shooting 50 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from three-point range. A Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, Denmon will be even harder to guard if he can incorporate a mid-range jumper into his game with more regularity.
As Denmon is sure to see more attention, the Tigers will need a better year from classmate Kim English, who saw his scoring average drop from 14.0 points as a sophomore to 10.0 last season. Never a high-percentage shooter, he shot a career-low 36.6 percent from the floor.
The Tigers have solid options at the point in junior Michael Dixon and sophomore Phil Pressey. The 6-foot-1 Dixon was one of the Big 12's leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio and averaged 10.3 points, while Pressey, a crafty playmaker with exceptional quickness, showed a better than expected jumper, hitting 41.8 percent of his three-point attempts in league play. Their lack of size can hurt defensively as they sometimes struggle to keep opposing guards out of the paint.
Haith prefers attacking opponents inside-out, a change from Anderson's more wide open motion attack. The shift could benefit senior Ricardo Ratliffe, who showed an effective back-to-the-basket game last season when teammates looked to him on the low block. The 6-9 Ratliffe isn't overly athletic, which can prove limiting against taller defenders.
The Tigers suffered a significant setback in early October when senior Laurence Bowers went down with a torn ACL in a pickup game. Bowers had developed into one of the top big men in the Big 12.
Bowers' absence will require senior Steve Moore to make a larger-than-expected contribution. He was used primarily as a screener in his limited time (11.4 mpg) last season, but he will be asked to contribute a bit more on the offensive end in his final season.
FINAL ANALYSIS Again Missouri appears to have plenty of offense, but how good the Tigers can be will depend on how quickly they adjust Haith's system and how much improve on the boards. During Big 12 play, Missouri was outrebounded by an average of five per game and allowed opponents to shoot more than 45 percent from the field. If the new coach can shore up those weaknesses, Missouri has enough talent and experience to contend in a rebuilding Big 12.
NEWCOMERS Kadeem Green (F, Fr.): Missed all of last season while healing from a ruptured Achilles tendon, he is ready to prove value as a shot-blocker.
Tony Lester (G, Fr.): Walk-on will not likely see much playing time this season.
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