We're counting down the days to basketball season, and to get everybody up to speed on the state of hoops in the SEC, I'm writing previews for each of the 14 teams. All work is my own, though I am relying on kenpom.com and sports-reference.com for some statistics. Teams will be previewed in reverse order of projected finish (according to me, anyway), so as this is the ninth of 14 previews, this is the team I project to finish 6th in the conference.
Missouri Tigers 2014-15 Basketball Preview
How Did We Get Here?
Frank Haith, as they say, may have been leaving one step ahead of the ax. After a season that began with high expectations and ended with Missouri missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, it's fair to think that Haith saw the writing on the wall when he took a pay increase -- but also a bump down in terms of job prestige -- to become the new head coach at Tulsa.
Haith took over a loaded team from current Arkansas coach Mike Anderson when he took the Missouri job in 2011. His first team at Missouri won 30 games and the Big 12 tournament -- then promptly lost to #15 seed Norfolk State in the first round of the tournament. Things quickly slid downhill from there. With six of the top seven players gone from that team (albeit with returning Laurence Bowers and transfer Alex Oriakhi), Mizzou went 23-11 in their first year in the SEC.
Last year, the record was 23-12, but that came with a 9-9 finish in the SEC and a trip to the NIT. Mizzou had a good offense, but managed to pair it with the second-worst defense in the SEC (only Mississippi State was worse.) The offense was good enough to keep the Tigers in most games, but the defense held the team back. And that was the basic problem with the Haith era. Haith could bring offensive talent to Columbia, but couldn't get them to play defense. The 2014 Missouri team, while doing a fairly acceptable job at keeping opponents off the offensive glass, didn't turn you over and didn't close out on the perimeter -- leading to opponents not only taking a lot of three-pointers (39.1 percent in SEC play), but also making a lot of them (35.3 percent.) The interior defense was only slightly better (48.8 percent on twos in SEC play), though that did feature at least one player who knew what he was doing on the defensive end.
Now, Kim Anderson takes over after winning a national championship at Division II Central Missouri. Aside from being highly successful at that level (274-95 record in 12 seasons at Central Missouri), Anderson played and coached at Missouri under Norm Stewart. In short, there's probably no one this side of Norm himself who knows the Missouri basketball program better. He also takes over a team that only returns 37 percent of its minutes from last season (only Tennessee has fewer minutes returning) -- but considering how poorly last year's team played on the defensive end, that might not be the worst thing in the world.
Projected Depth Chart
Quick note: For starters, I'm using the five "traditional" positions on the floor even if the players may be listed otherwise on the roster, so you may see guards appearing as forwards, forwards appearing as centers, etc. Recruiting rankings are the composite rankings from 247sports.com.
- Jabari Brown (37.0 mpg, 19.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg); declared for NBA Draft
- Jordan Clarkson (35.1 mpg, 17.5 ppg, 3.4 apg); declared for NBA Draft
- Earnest Ross (31.9 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg); graduated
- Tony Criswell (13.9 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg); graduated
- Stefan Jankovic (3 games, 8.7 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); transfer/Hawaii
- Torren Jones (8.1 mpg, 2.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); transfer/Midland JC
- Shane Rector (4.4 mpg, 0.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg); transfer/Miami-Dade CC
- PG Keith Shamburger (5'11", 170 Sr., Los Angeles, CA); transfer/Hawaii
- SG Wes Clark (6'0", 185 Soph., Detroit, MI)
- SF Montaque Gill-Caesar (6'6", 215 Fr., Vaughan, ON); #13 SG and #36 overall
- PF Johnathan Williams (6'9", 225 Soph., Memphis, TN)
- C Ryan Rosburg (6'10", 264 Jr., Chesterfield, MO)
- G Deuce Bello (6'4", 198 Jr., Greensboro, NC); transfer/Baylor
- G Namon Wright (6'5", 200 Fr., Los Angeles, CA); #21 SG and #70 overall
- F Jakeenan Gant (6'8", 207 Fr., Springfield, GA); #10 PF and #56 overall
- F Keanau Post (6'11", 270 Sr., Victoria, BC)
- G Tramaine Isabell (6'0", 180 Fr., Seattle, WA); #50 PG and #264 overall
- F D'Angelo Allen (6'7", 220 Fr., Dallas, TX); #42 SF and #157 overall
Like South Carolina, Missouri has already played an exhibition game; however, I'm taking the liberty of adding Johnathan Williams (who missed the exhibition due to an injury) to the starting lineup as he will likely start ahead of Jakeenan Gant if healthy.
I wrote, sometime around the time that Haith left, that Missouri ranked up there with Tennessee in terms of dumpster fires in the SEC. Like Tennessee, Mizzou did lose the big guns from last year's team. (Also: note the high number of minutes played by Brown and Clarkson. Think fatigue might have had something to do with why the Tigers didn't play a lick of defense?) Missouri also lost a pair of transfers -- Zach Price and Cameron Biedscheid -- before either played a minute of basketball at the school.
But the two situations really aren't that similar beyond losing a coach and the top talent from last year. Unlike Donnie Tyndall at Tennessee, Kim Anderson was able to keep Frank Haith's incoming recruiting class together, and actually added to it; Tramaine Isabell, Montaque Gill-Caesar, and D'Angelo Allen all came on board after Anderson was named the head coach. Anderson also added a graduate transfer in Keith Shamburger, and welcomes Deuce Bello, a former top recruit who sat out last season after transferring from Baylor. Tennessee's roster at first glance appears to be a patchwork of guys, many of whom may or may not be SEC players; Missouri, meanwhile, has a lot of new faces, but this looks like a pretty talented bunch.
And the holdover talent isn't bad. Johnathan Williams started all 35 games as a freshman and played 26.4 mpg. Williams is a bit raw on the offensive end, but showed himself to be a good rebounder and shot blocker who should fit right in with Anderson's more defensive-minded approach. Ryan Rosburg is a slightly more polished version of Josh Henderson; he'll likely split time at the five with Keanau Post, who played limited minutes last year but has the potential to be a contributor.
In JaKeenan Gant and D'Angelo Allen, Anderson has a pair of freshmen who are (respectively) 6'8" and 6'7" and can run and jump. While both need more polish on the offensive end, Anderson certainly has the pieces to put together an impressive defense inside. (Both were also briefly in Anderson's doghouse after getting arrested in September, but seem to be back in good standing now. Anderson also dismissed Cam Biedscheid and Torren Jones from the team previously, indicating a desire to make a break from the Haith administration.)
Anderson's last three teams at Central Missouri allowed shooting percentages of 41.8, 42.2, and 41.2, and all three gave up less than a point per possession. Obviously defending the likes of Kentucky and Florida is a different beast than D-II teams, but it's also true that Anderson will have better athletes at his disposal in his first year at Missouri.
In the backcourt, the only holdover is Wes Clark, who struggled as a freshman but will likely play a bigger role this season. But Anderson does have a couple of newcomers with Division 1 experience as well. Keith Shamburger arrives from Hawaii as a graduate transfer after starting his career at San Jose State; Shamburger is a rather poor shooter (34.9 percent from the field for his career, although he's a fairly good free throw shooter) but is being brought in as a distributor (5.4 apg at Hawaii last year.) Deuce Bello was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but struggled to find playing time in two years at Baylor; Bello figures to come off the bench but could work his way into the starting lineup if Clark continues to struggle.
Anderson scored a nice late pickup in Montaque Gill-Caesar, who was rated as one of the top wing players in the Class of 2015 but reclassified to enroll at Missouri a year ahead of schedule. Gill-Caesar figures to start right away at the three; he excels at getting to the basket but also has a decent jump shot to go with it. Namon Wright, who briefly decommitted after Haith left but ultimately landed back in Missouri's fold, should provide help off the bench. Tramaine Isabell has talent, but starts the year clearly behind Shamburger and Clark on the depth chart at point guard.
|10/29||William Jewell (exh.)|
|11/8||Missouri-St. Louis (exh.)|
|12/2||SE Missouri State|
|12/20||vs. Illinois (St. Louis, MO)|
|12/30||vs. Oklahoma State (Kansas City, MO)|
Auburn, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State
LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Florida
Alabama, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia
As usual, the Maui Invitational field is tough; after facing a likely top 5 team in Arizona, Mizzou will play a couple more good teams (unless they happen to draw Chaminade in the third game.) With a road game against Oklahoma, a home game against Xavier, and in-state neutral court games against Illinois and Oklahoma State as well, Mizzou certainly won't lack for marquee games on the non-conference schedule. Valpo and Oral Roberts are usually tough outs as well; basically, the non-conference SOS won't become an issue here, though if the Tigers' newcomers are slow to come along this team could have a few losses heading into SEC play.
The SEC schedule isn't too terrible; while Kentucky and Arkansas are contenders, drawing Auburn, A&M, and Mississippi State twice is a bit more forgiving. All four of the one-off road games should be winnable as well, while drawing Florida and LSU at home is a nice bonus.
Missouri enters 2014-15 as one of the biggest unknowns in the SEC, with seven newcomers (five of whom have never played Division 1 basketball before) and a new head coach who's been successful in Division 2... but hasn't even coached at the mid-major level before. Of course, Bruce Pearl exists as proof that Division 2 success can translate into Division 1 success. In any case, it's fairly obvious that Anderson can coach (and is probably an upgrade over Frank Haith on the sidelines -- not that that's saying a whole lot.)
The questions surrounding Anderson have more to do with whether or not he can recruit at a high level, and while the early returns aren't that promising -- Missouri currently only has two low three-star recruits committed for next season, though he did manage to keep Wright in the fold and land Gill-Caesar -- in the near term, that's not going to be an issue. Haith certainly didn't leave the cupboard bare when he left for Tulsa; indeed, Haith's issue was that he could recruit but couldn't get the most out of the talent he brought in.
At the same time, there are some reasons for skepticism here. Anderson put together good defensive teams at Central Missouri, but it's an open question whether he can do the same at Missouri, particularly on a team that didn't play a lot of defense last season. And while this team is talented, there are still a lot of new faces here. The good news on that front is that at the Division 2 level, Anderson became fairly accustomed to molding a new team every year (if you think there's a lot of roster turnover in the SEC, have a look at your average Division 2 program sometime.) But it's actually sort of hard to draw much distinction between this team and, say, Vanderbilt: while the freshmen are a bit more talented (by reputation) than Vanderbilt's freshmen, Mizzou is still dealing with a ton of unknowns heading into this season.
As I've mentioned in earlier previews, much like in last year's SEC (when three games separated fourth place from ninth place) there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of difference between the teams in the middle of the pack. I wouldn't really argue with you if you think Missouri will finish lower than sixth in the conference, because they don't look to be that much different from the 10th and 11th-place teams. But this is also a potential NCAA team if everything goes well.