Missouri's crop of big men is relatively unproven, at least in starting roles. Only one of the following players started a game for Missouri in 2008-09, and I'm sure pre-season prognosticators have seen that and used it as a reason to write off Missouri this year.
That may be too simple of an explanation, though. This group of big men has a lot of strengths that really could be amplified in starting roles. However, we won't know whether those strengths or weaknesses will be amplified until they actually hit the floor as starters.
The upperclassmen: Keith Ramsey (Sr.) and Justin Safford (Jr.)
Ramsey is the only big on Missouri with any D-1 starting experience, as he started five games last year over Lyons (mainly for disciplinary reasons). He grabbed 102 rebounds and led the team with 31 blocks in only 519 minutes last year--about half of what Carroll and Lyons played.
Coach Mike Anderson loves to describe Ramsey as a "slasher," and, believe it or not, Ramsey led Missouri in field goal percentage last year (.611). Granted, that's because almost all of the shots Ramsey took were in high-percentage areas--and even then, Ramsey sometimes looked tentative.
That being said, if Ramsey can finish strong and continue his excellent defense down low, he'll go a long way toward replacing Lyons at forward. The scoring won't be as high, but Ramsey's defense likely will be better than that of Lyons.
Safford has the most offensive potential of any Missouri's forwards, if you ask me. He hits most of the three-pointers he takes--although he's very selective from the perimeter--and keeps that same good stroke from inside the perimeter.
It'll be interesting to see how often the team sets up plays in its half-court offense to feed the ball to Safford with his back to the basket like a traditional power forward. Safford's ability to have success with his back to the basket isn't imperative to the team, but it would help because that's not a strength of Ramsey.
The human highlight reel: Laurence Bowers
While Bowers only played in 31 of Missouri's 38 games last year, he made a lasting impression on Missouri fans with a bunch of high-flying dunks. He never really had an opportunity to get consistent playing time against decent opponents, as he was blocked on the forward depth chart by Carroll, Lyons, Ramsey, and Safford.
Bowers said he put on 10 pounds in the offseason, and that could be big in keeping Bowers from getting bumped around down low. If he's not cutting to the hoop, Bowers occasionally showed a decent stroke from 12-18 feet. But again, Bowers didn't play all that much last year, so he's somewhat of an unknown.
Personally, I'm the most interested to see what Bowers can do early on in the season. He's not a key to Missouri's success--no one player is on this team--but with more playing time, he could develop into an excellent backup forward for this team.
And given how often substitutions have to be made with Anderson's style of play, having that good backup forward will be important this year.
The center: Steve Moore
While Moore may not be part of Missouri's regular rotation early in the season, Anderson is confident Moore can be a big part of Missouri's system come Big 12 play.
We know Moore brings some size to Missouri's bigs, but the question is whether that size can be converted into success. Moore still can be tentative--during the Black & Gold game, he air-balled a jump shot that prompted Kimmie English to tell him "Steve, just shoot it!"
But already Moore looks much better than he did last year. He shed a lot of weight and replaced it with muscle and improved his conditioning, which was a problem with him last year.
Still, Missouri probably shouldn't count on Moore to really contribute this year--if he does, it's an added bonus. That seems to be the stance Anderson is taking with Moore right now.
The freshmen: Tyler Stone and John Underwood
Stone provides some size, but not to the extent of Moore at six-foot-seven and 225 lbs. He wasn't highly-recruited as a three-star from Memphis, but that doesn't mean he won't have success in college. He's one of those "diamond in the rough" players that could potentially flourish in Anderson's system so long as he gets his conditioning up.
The first thing you'll notice about Underwood is his length. He's listed at six-foot-nine, but he has an impressive wingspan that leads him to look like he's going through pre-game layup and dunk warmups with minimum effort. He strikes me as a lot like Bowers last year--he could stand to bulk up a bit, but his pure athleticism makes him an intriguing talent.
We'll find out a lot about who Anderson favors between Stone and Underwood if either get playing time in the first halves of these first few games. One of them may need to step up if Moore can't cut it, so every non-conference game they play in will be very important.
I'm more optimistic than most about Missouri's forward situation--I think the rotation of Ramsey, Safford, and Bowers can be effective. The question is both if and when Moore will be ready and whether Stone/Underwood can contribute this year.
With Missouri's system, having four bigs is a must. Right now, Missouri has three in Ramsey, Safford, and Bowers--so if one of Moore, Stone, and Underwood steps up, the system will be fine.