Columbia, Missouri (KMOV) -- On the day the Missouri Tigers opened their home football schedule with a decisive 49-point victory over lowly Southeast Missouri State, the Mizzou basketball team left its fans with the same feeling of uncertainty that has hovered over the program for the last several years.
Mizzou Arena opened its doors to the public Saturday afternoon for an hour-long scrimmage featuring the 2008-09 Tigers as well as two high school seniors. Michael Dixon of Lee's Summit West High School has already committed to MU, and Michael Snaer, the nation's 11th-rated recruit, has yet to select a college.
With NCAA rules preventing the presence of the coaching staff, the scrimmage was largely a glorified pick-up game. Three teams of five Mizzou players rotated on and off the floor as the winners kept the court after each battle to eight points in front of the several hundred fans gathered in the lower section of the arena.
All eyes were on Snaer, the honored guest from Rancho Verde High School in California. It was an up and down day for the 6-foot-4 guard. He looked jittery at the outset, missing a lay-up, traveling badly (though of course it wasn't called) and missing a three-pointer on his first three touches in addition to getting caught standing still on a lay-up for the opposition.
From there, it was on and off for the youngster from the Left Coast. He showed some good defensive instincts by jumping passing routes for steals on multiple occasions, but he also got beat for his share of lay-ups and a couple of outside jumpers. In addition, Snaer didn't seem all that interested in getting back down the floor in transition defensively, but that could well have been a function of playing in a scrimmage sans coaches or cameras.
It was the same sort of deal offensively. The recruit showed off a sweet shooting stroke by canning a couple of long-jumpers and banking in a runner, but he also tried to do a bit too much around the rim on a couple of occasions, which led to some wildly missed lay-ups and a couple of shots blocked.
Snaer did give the fans a look at some pretty passing skills, providing two early highlights with beautiful touch passes to DeMarre Carroll and then J.T. Tiller for fast break lay-ups. In the final game of the day, he also evoked the biggest roar with an emphatic dunk off a dish from Carroll.
All told, it was a middle-of-the-road showing for the nation's number 11 recruit with some plays to remember and some to forget on both ends of the floor, though the guess here is that the defensive intensity would have been greater with coaches watching. Snaer could do no wrong in the eyes of the assembled spectators, who cheered him and implored him to commit to MU throughout the workout.
And they got plenty of looks at him thanks largely to the fact that he played on what was easily the best team in the competition. Though there are many unfamiliar faces on this Tigers squad, Snaer ran with four incumbents: Carroll, Tiller and forwards Matt Lawrence and Justin Safford.
That loaded unit dominated throughout the afternoon, taking four of the first five games played. In a particularly surprising development for yours truly, Lawrence and Tiller were easily two of the most impressive players on the floor. Neither has been a personal favorite over the last two seasons, but while one should be wary of taking too much stock in a scrimmage in early September, both players looked sharp.
Lawrence has caused great agitation with his inability to create his own shot and get his feet set, but he came out firing early and did so successfully. He pulled up both from beyond the arc and mid-range, and he really looked to be making an effort to set his feet and keep his body squared to the basket. It reflected in the results, with Lawrence spraying jumpers from all over the court and hitting at a very high percentage.
Tiller's tendency to steer out of control has long been his biggest obstacle, but he harnessed his energy very effectively on Saturday. He still didn't look comfortable shooting the ball from the outside, but he made a few nifty moves around the bucket and was also willing to patiently distribute the ball.
Toward the end of the scrimmage, Carroll joined Lawrence and Tiller as far as encouraging showings were concerned. On a day when the competition had been largely casual throughout the first few games, it seemed that a couple of contested calls, some opponent showboating and finally a bit of jawing with newcomer Zaire Taylor sparked Carroll, who really picked up the intensity toward the end of the day. The 6-foot-8 senior forward complemented his mid-range jump shots by attacking the rim hard for several baskets, and his yells of "D up!" to his teammates were audible throughout the arena. The heat rose all over the court as a result, and the best game of afternoon ended with Lawrence hitting from beyond the three-point line to give his team a dramatic 8-7 win.
Beyond Snaer and his stacked team, it was the sort of day that has become too typical for Missouri basketball, the type that would best be described by that amorphous phrase "Meh."
The returnees' interest wavered. Until a couple of late dunks, beloved 6-foot-9 forward and rapper Leo '6-Plus' Lyons seemed most interested in showing off his rough-around-the-edges ball-handling skills and hanging out on the perimeter. Justin Safford didn't shoot well or much from the outside, but he did climb the ladder for an alley-oop dunk that drew its share of ooohs and ahhs from the crowd.
The six newcomers did what newcomers do: They showed some potential and some sluggishness. Heralded big man Steve Moore hit a couple of lay-ups but has a long way to go from a fitness standpoint before he is in shape to play in Mike Anderson's up-tempo system. Wearing Marshall Brown's old number 15, Keith Ramsey got up for a couple of impressive shot blocks and finished well around the basket. Staten Island-born Zaire Taylor made this native New Yorker grin with plenty of yapping throughout the day. Kim English showed flashes of brilliance.
Finally, the next most applause after Snaer's went to the previously committed Dixon. Like everybody else, the 6-foot-1 guard was up and down. He highlighted his day by hitting a three-pointer in Snaer's face, but Dixon put up his share of bricks as well. At just 155 pounds, he'll need to put on some weight this year before heading to the next level. Getting a bit stronger might help him get out of his habit of leaning forward into his three-point shots as he looks like he is straining to reach the basket when he shoots from distance.
Lots of new faces. Lots of old faces worthy of plenty of questions. Two young faces, one of which may not even be here in Columbia a year from now. Another season of the unknown is coming upon these Missouri basketball Tigers.
So folks had best enjoy the days of Chase Daniel and cinch football blowouts over the SEMOs of the world while they last.