Mike Anderson has always been fashioned a guards coach. But last year, Missouri relied on a pair of forwards--Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons--for much of the team's go-to scoring.
This year, Missouri may have to rely on its guards for the majority of scoring. Given the team's current crop of guards, though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The seniors: J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor
What we know is that Tiller is a lock-down defender who can neutralize some of the nation's best guards. What we don't know is if Tiller can find a regular scoring touch.
Tiller has shown flashes of scoring ability in previous years, most notably in last season's Sweet Sixteen win over Memphis (23 points) and 2008's win over then-No. 22 Kansas State (20 points). But Tiller only averaged 8.4 points per game in 2008-09 and will have to show a more consistent shot from 15 feet if he's going to become a more consistent scorer.
He's a good slasher--meaning when the lanes are open, he's able to drive to the hoop and score. But those lanes won't be open every game, so if he can get a consistent jump shot, he'll be a scoring threat in every game.
However, even if Tiller can't develop that consistent jumper, nobody's going to complain about his play. Offense is more of a complement to his defense than the other way around.
As for Taylor, he has good scoring ability--he just didn't always choose to use it last year. That's not because Taylor wasn't confident, more that he worked the ball to other scorers.
If Taylor takes on an increased scoring role in the offense this season, he has the tools to be a 10+ point average scorer. But like Tiller, even if he doesn't take on that advanced scoring role, his defense and ability to run a fast break will make up for it.
The sophomores: Kim English, Marcus Denmon, and Miguel Paul
Denmon and English had up-and-down freshman campaigns while Paul seemed to struggle in his limited playing time last year.
English displayed an excellent shooting stroke during Missouri's Oct. 23 Black & Gold game, but he likely won't shoot that much once the season starts. However, if English catches fire, he's a player who Missouri can ride to a victory.
He's intimated that he wants to be more than just a shooter this year, so watch to see if English tries to drive to the hoop more as the year goes on.
While English will play the three, he's more of a third guard than small forward.
A knee problem bothered Denmon through much of 2008-09, but despite that, he made great strides defensively as the year went on. He has an off-and-on stroke from three-point range, shooting just 30 percent from the perimeter in his freshman year.
But Denmon still is somewhat of an unknown, as coach Mike Anderson intimated that Denmon's knee problems restricted his jumping ability through last year. That could at least partly explain why Denmon was inconsistent as a scorer last year, so maybe we'll find out more about Denmon's true scoring ability in his sophomore year.
Finally, there's Paul, who played pretty well in the Black & Gold game despite being sick and not practicing the week leading up to the scrimmage. The 19 points Paul scored were 16 more than his per-game average of 3.0 last year.
But what was more impressive than Paul's scoring was his ball-handling ability in the Black & Gold game. At times last year, Paul looked tentative with the ball, turning it over 33 times. For reference, Denmon had 36 turnovers in over 200 more minutes played.
So which Paul will Missouri see in 2009-10? The one who struggled with shot selection and ball control last year? Or the one who played so well in the Black & Gold game?
If it's the one who played so well in the Black & Gold game, then Missouri will be incredibly well-set with its guards, taking the pressure off the next guard listed.
The freshman: Michael Dixon, Jr.
Dixon impressed in the Black & Gold game with his quickness, scoring 22 points in the game. Obviously, Dixon won't play as much as he did in the Black & Gold game during the season (so the five first-half fouls he had likely won't be a huge issue).
However, Dixon should be part of Missouri's regular guard rotation. It looks like he can run with anybody, so there shouldn't be any energy lost when he comes into a game for Tiller or Taylor.
The strength of Missouri's guards--and team, in general--is defense and fast-break points. Missouri won't have to worry about guards picking up the lost scoring from Carroll and Lyons so long as the guards force turnovers and easy fast-break points.