Alcorn St.-Missouri Preview
Missouri has a very different look this season, but that doesn't mean expectations are lower.
The 14th-ranked Tigers will try to improve upon its 66-game home winning streak over non-conference opponents on Tuesday night against Alcorn State.
Missouri is without most of the standouts from last year's 30-5 team, but senior Laurence Bowers still thinks the Tigers have enough for a run to the school's first Final Four.
"I really think so,'' said Bowers, who missed all of 2011-12 rehabbing from a knee injury after averaging 11.6 points the season before.
"From a talent standpoint, and just all the intangibles, we have a really good chance. Now, obviously, we've got to still work. You can have all the talent in the world, and if you don't have work ethic it doesn't matter.''
Point guard Phil Pressey - the SEC's preseason player of the year and Missouri's only returning starter - is the biggest name, but Bowers helps give what could be a better inside-outside balance for the Tigers. Missouri's guard-oriented offense relied largely on the 3-pointer last season, draining 293 - tied for the seventh-most in the country.
Bowers showed no rust in scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds in Saturday's 83-69 season-opening win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. The 6-foot-8 forward made 9 of 14 shots.
Missouri trailed for most of the first half, but Bowers' personal 10-2 run early in the second led to the blowout.
"I was shooting a ton when I was hurt, so it's paying off," he said. "I've just got to continue to stay after practiced and work out."
Combining with Bowers up front is Alex Oriakhi, the headliner in a marquee transfer class that features four players. A key piece in Connecticut's run to a 2011 national championship, Oriakhi posted eight points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in his Missouri debut. Keion Bell, who averaged 16.4 points in three seasons at Pepperdine, scored eight, while Earnest Ross, who averaged 13.1 points for Auburn in 2010-11, added seven points.
Pressey tallied 19 points and nine assists, and his role becomes even more important with Michael Dixon suspended for violating team rules. Coach Frank Haith hasn't given a timetable for a possible return for Dixon, who averaged 13.5 points as the Tigers' sixth man last season.
Despite Dixon's absence, Missouri still seems to have a good shot of continuing its home dominance over non-conference foes. The Tigers haven't fallen to a non-conference team in Columbia since Nov. 14, 2005, to Sam Houston State.
That streak seems safe against Alcorn State, a team that has been outscored by an average of 46.4 points in losing its last seven games against ranked teams.
The Braves, who lost at Missouri 82-51 in 1981, in the only previous meeting, defeated Oakwood 85-41 on Sunday in their opener.
After struggling to a 10-22 record last season, Alcorn State returns four of five starters, all of whom are seniors. The new starter is LeAntwan Luckett, a once highly touted recruit who didn't play last year as a freshman.
Luckett had 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting Sunday, while Anthony Nieves scored a team-high 18.