NCAA BK

Missouri again picked to finish seventh in Big 12

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP)

Missouri lost its top two scorers after a postseason run that ended one game shy of the Final Four. Expectations are down, right? Well, not so much. Coach Mike Anderson is counting on his relentless pressing defense and developing young talent to produce another unexpected big season despite the departures of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Top 3-point threat Matt Lawrence also must be replaced - together those three combined for more than half of the team's 81.5 scoring average. "It's a different team," said Anderson, entering his fourth season at Missouri with nine first- or second-year players. "There's no question about it." Of course, Missouri was picked to finish seventh last season, too. But the Tigers won a school-record 31 games, ended a five-year postseason drought and earned Anderson a seven-year contract extension. He promises another team that'll force the action and share the load. "I think we've got some guys who can put it in the hole," Anderson said. "We've got to be that team that is going to be tenacious, scrapping and clawing." Missouri is deepest at guard, beginning with returning starters J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor. Tiller was the Big 12 defensive player of the year. He averaged only 8.4 points last season and is being counted on for an expanded role. "Points don't reflect whether he's had a good game," Taylor said. Kim English and Marcus Denmon also figure to pick up the scoring slack, with English getting 32 points in the annual black and gold scrimmage. Freshman Michael Dixon averaged 24 points for Lee's Summit West High and was named Missouri's top prep player, then hit the ground running in the scrimmage with 22 points. Dixon was listed among the nation's top 100 recruits by several publications and had offers from several Top 25 caliber programs. "You can see why he was one of the best players in our state," Anderson said. "It's going to be a process with him, just seeing what he can and can't do at this level but he gets the luxury to go against Zaire and J.T. every single day." A thin front court is the major reason Missouri has no preseason cachet headed into the opener Nov. 17 against Tennessee-Martin. None of the returning players averaged as much as four points last season, although Justin Safford, Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers all had their moments. "I've waited my time every year, learning from the older guys," Safford said. "Coach gives you an opportunity. What you do with that decides your playing time." Ramsey led the team with 31 blocks and scored in double figures in consecutive Big 12 games. Bowers scored 16 points against both Colorado and Kansas State. The 6-8 Safford was Missouri's top 3-point shooter, going 9 for 12 to end the season, and had a 15-point game. "We've got some pretty darn good guards. The competition is hot and heavy," Anderson said. "Now we have to get the same thing taking place with the forwards. This team has to get its own identity." Key early season tests include the South Padre Invitational over Thanksgiving, home games against Oregon on Dec. 5 and Georgia on Jan. 2, and the annual neutral-site Illinois game in St. Louis on Dec. 23.
Tagged: Missouri

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