Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking an in-depth look at every school in the Big 12. I'll focus on the past (i.e. last season's strengths and weaknesses), the changes (i.e. incoming freshmen, departing seniors, new coaches), and the future.
Missouri has grown on me more than any team during the offseason. When Tony Mitchell's eligibility was called into question, I wrote off Mike Anderson's squad. But looking at the Tigers a little closer has changed my mind. With Tony Mitchell the Tigers are a scary complete team (and looking way too far into the future, assuming everyone returns and Mitchell gets eligible for next year, they will be a scary complete team). The patented "40 Minutes of Hell" defense requires a deep, athletic squad, and this team fits the bill.
A team that loses three starters normally declines: Missouri lost J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor, and Keith Ramsey. At point guard I think sophomore Michael Dixon is ready to step up with frosh Phil Pressey ready to fill his reserve role (and I wouldn't be surprised if Pressey moved into the starting spot by the end of the season). Likewise Marcus Denmon is a great replacement for Taylor (Denmon averaged more than ten points a game and shot over 40% from beyond the arc). Laurence Bowers should pick up the rest of the slack left by the graduated starters. Per Ken Pomeroy's rankings Bowers, Denmon, and Dixon held the three highest offensive ratings on Mizzou (118.9, 116.7, and 113.0 respectively). Needless to say, offensively I think they're ready for increased roles.
Missouri also brings in a stellar recruiting class: even if Tony Mitchell never plays this season, the rest of the class is very strong. As I said before, I think Phil Pressey has a legitimate chance to start this year at point guard. His brother Matt Pressey was a first team National Junior College Athletics Association All-American last year after averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. And he's not even the best JuCo transfer coming to Columbia. Ricardo Ratliffe is considered the top JuCo recruit for this season after an epic two years at the junior college level. Last season he averaged 27.4 points and 11.3 boards a game (his freshman year he played at a similar level with 26.8 points and 11 rebounds). Now I know junior college stats never translate directly to the next level. But anyone who's averaging more than 25 points and 10 rebounds a game can play. He won't put up those gaudy numbers at Missouri, but he should have an instant impact (and may turn out to be the second best player on the entire team).
Tony Mitchell would certainly be the icing on the cake, as he was another double-double machine in high school. But this team can be excellent without him.
One player this team cannot be excellent without is Kim English. I didn't factor him into my earlier praise because I don't think people should be surprised that he's better. I know superstars aren't made by Anderson's system, but English is about as close as you can get. The key for Mizzou being the dark horse Final Four contender some writers (here or here for two examples) think they are (myself included) will be getting a balanced, efficient offensive attack. If English can pick slightly better shots (and get a little more consistent finishing around the rim), I fully believe they can make the run.
Missouri has a fairly innocuous nonconference schedule highlighted by Georgetown, Illinois, and Vanderbilt. But they make up for any cream puffs in conference play. The Tigers play Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas State, Kansas, and Iowa State twice. They also get Texas on the road. No doubt they'll make cash in wins against Nebraska and Iowa State (unless losing to the Cornhuskers by 15 last year in the Big 12 conference tournament has any negative longterm effects), but Kansas and Kansas State are two of the contenders (and legitimate top-10 teams). Texas, and Colorado to a lesser extent, also have the talent to beat anyone.
This feels like a copout, but I'm going to move the Tigers into a three-way tie for second. I think they'll beat Kansas and Baylor head to head (which is why I have them higher), but their conference schedule is too tough to think the'll escape with a 12-4 record.
Predicted conference record: 11-5
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