(MISSOURI BASKETBALL APP) -- Missouri enjoyed the cloak of anonymity in the 2011-12 season. They signed an unknown coach, lost their best player, and were written off prior to the start of the year. In what turned out to be a perfect storm, the Tigers turned all these things into tremendous success.
It could be argued that starting in obscurity made the climb to 30-5 a lot easier, as there was no pressure to succeed. Simply surviving the season was enough for most fans, and when the weight of expectation is lifted from a team’s shoulders, they tend to do everything a little more comfortably.
The Tigers had nothing to lose; a mindset that is absolutely lethal in college basketball. By the time opponents realized they were a real threat, Mizzou had already found their identity and knew exactly how to win with what they had.
What they had wasn’t much, and despite the great play throughout the year, a common refrain all season was, “imagine how good they would be if they still had Lawrence Bowers!”
But would they have been better? So much of the success last year was a product of finding creative ways to win games. It required tapping into unexplored talents that may have never been tested otherwise.
Would Ratliffe have been such a prolific scorer with Bowers sharing the rock? Sure his numbers logically would have decreased since he would no longer have been the only low-post option, but would his effectiveness been anywhere close to what it was?
He had to learn how to shoot quickly and only take high-percentage shots. Because there was no one else to help, he had to develop moves that were indefensible in order to be relevant on offense. That simply doesn’t happen if Bowers is part of the equation.
Missouri’s unbelievable ability to draw a charge was another byproduct of being understaffed. The Tigers simply couldn’t expect to out-rebound anyone, so they adapted; learning to create possessions by taking charges. Kim English did this better than anyone in the country last season, and it could be argued that his resurgence was due to finally understanding his role- a role that was created in the absence of Bowers. He became a small forward, which often ended up in mismatches on the offensive end, and was finally able to exploit his scoring ability since he no longer had to think like a guard.
The point is, Missouri’s lethality as a team came from their inauspicious beginnings. By being in a bit of disarray to start, they were able to look at the chessboard and decide what had to happen if they were going to be competitive. Then they set out to master that strategy.
That clarity of purpose made the path so much clearer, and it led to a machine-like efficiency. Such is not the case in 2012-13. The Tigers no longer have a shortage of weapons; they have a surplus of them. Managing those weapons could prove to be a bigger challenge than not having to create them from scratch.
Not only has Bowers returned, but Dixon and Pressey still captain the backcourt. Add to that legitimate size and rebounding ability through Oriakhi, Criswell, and Rosburg as well as new offensive firepower in Keion Bell, Stefan Jankovic, and Earnest Ross, and the Tigers find themselves in unfamiliar territory. This is all without mentioning Jabari Brown and Negus Webster-Chan, the latter of which has emerged as a potential source of breakout scoring.
I won’t complain that the Tigers have a roster full of talent, but I will wonder how Frank Haith is going to make sense of all of it.
Are we still a run-and-gun offense that lives off turnovers? Do we still try to outpace the opposition's big men or do we go right at them with size and strength? How do we get our points (fast break or do we match up in the half court)?
With so many options, finding the right mixture could be tough. Keeping players invested, maintaining confidence, and balancing egos is a challenge when this many guys can make a legitimate case for playing time.
The chessboard may be a little harder to read this season. With a team like this there isn’t one clear path to success, and picking the wrong strategy can be just as disastrous as not having enough talent.
Frank Haith faces his first real challenge. The country knows his name now, and with that comes expectations. Fans are not only looking for a repeat of last year’s success, they are looking to surpass it. Players now have a monster season under their belt, and thus have their reputations to lose, something that can tighten up the muscles late in games. In fact, the only time Mizzou truly entered a game with expectations placed on them, they were upset by fifteenth-seeded Norfolk State in the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps most importantly, the Tigers are no longer in the shadows- everyone in the country knows they’re coming.
There is no cloak for Missouri this season. Let us hope they don't need one to succeed.