A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
Thanks to an infusion of twentysomething contributors for the Blue Ribbon Yearbook the Big 12 writer, Topeka Courier-Journal’s Tully Corcoran, offered this nice pop-culture reference when describing the Tigers potential move to the grind-it-out style-of-play in the Big 10:
…if you thought [Mike] Anderson’s 40-minutes-of-hell style was a culture shock in the Big 12, in the Big 10, Missouri would have gone over like N.W.A. did in 1988 Middle America.
While the conference re-shuffling didn’t shake up major college sports at the high-volume we were initially led to believe, Missouri is no doubt going to continue to shake up (and piss off) a lot of their opponents this seasons. After a five year absence, the Tigers have won four tournament games the past two seasons, employ a style of play touted as one of the most daunting to plan for, but seem to be flying under the radar of the college basketball pundits who apparently know what they’re talking about.
Despite losing three starters from last year, all who logged 24+ MPG, Missouri may actually be sporting a more offensively potent team than in past season. Kim English, the team’s leading returning scorer, will guide the team along side backcourt mate Marcus Denmon. English is a coaches dream, a true gym rat who spends just about every hour of the day with basketball on the brain. Hopefully, he spent a good chunk of the summer as a shooter. While he led last year’s squad in FG and three-pointers made, English finished toward the bottom of the team in shooting percentage, at 39 and 37 percent, respectively. Nonetheless, English knows how to score.
Another question mark is this team’s jewel of the freshman class. Tony Mitchell, a McDonalds All-American who does all those things you would expect out of an elite 6’7" wing player, isn’t even enrolled at the school for the Fall Semester due to issues with his high school transcript. There’s no time table for his return at this time. Renardo Sidney knows how crappy it feels.
What happened this summer?
It was pretty obvious way back in June that Tony Mitchell wasn't going to be cleared by the NCAA to play. Head coach Mike Anderson tossed a first pitch at Kauffman Stadium. Rick Majerus got the cold shoulder, again, for a game against Mizzou.
Games that really matter?
- 11/30 vs. Georgetown
- 12/2 @ Oregon
- 12/8 vs. Vanderbilt
- 12/22 vs. Illinois (@ St. Louis)
- 1/17 vs. Kansas St.
- 1/29 @ Texas
- 2/7 @ Kansas
- 2/26 @ Kansas St.
- 3/5 vs. Kansas
Most intriguing player
Missouri relies heavily on being a well-oiled machine from the top to the bottom of its rotation. A great number we unearthed was 31.6 – the combined PPG average the Tigers got from its bench, a school record. Mike Anderson prides himself on employing a system where the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. When he recruits, he looks for pieces to his puzzle, not just the best players interested in living in Columbia. Sure English will get the most attention as the first-option on offense, and Mitchell will be intriguing if he joins the team in January, but this team doesn't need a star to be successful.
What’s on the line?
With forward Justin Safford the only senior in the rotation the Tigers can set the table for next season, where they will be a pre-season top 10 team. Even though we are looking ahead, there’s no reason for this team to take a step back from last season’s 23-11 output. The Big 12 isn't nearly as top heavy, so fans definitely should expect an improvement from 2010.
If you want us to go out on a ledge, we’ll say that there’s a chance the Tigers could shoot up the national rankings much like fellow Big 12 foe Kansas State did last season. That’s a best case scenario, with the worst being that the loss of J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor hurts their perimeter defense and they struggle to find an identity. We'll play it safe though and predict that Tigers fans enjoy a third consecutive quality season, with a glimpse at the prospect to to really make noise in 2012.
- Conference: 4th
- Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16