Hoop M Nation, December 13

Joe Robbins

Party Starter and a Brown of Some Renown.

Back by popular demand (or Bill's polite request; take your pick) it's Hoop M Nation. This recurring feature was defunct. Time to get re-funked. Let's go around the nation.

Bowers, Party of One: We knew this Missouri team would be different. Blair Kerkhoff has a good survey of how the roster has gone from tiny to titanic. But the difference isn't just measurable. To date, things have been considerably less pleasurable. And while that sounds like a knock on the current players, remember that they never really stood a chance. Last year's team was sui generis, a squad like no other. They turned athletics into aesthetics, each ballgame a ballet with their style of liquid basketball, a perpetual-motion machine that seemed to cap each possession with an open look. In contrast, the current team too often dams the flow. With Phil Pressey being the only creator on offense, things start off with a pass. And then the ball stops. Then the next player makes a pass. And then the ball stops. Finally, Laurence Bowers just gives an exasperated look that says "give me the ball so I can score." And someone finally does, and he does. It's not as pretty as in 2011-12, but whatever works. There's more than one way to win.

Bowers's play really has been remarkable. I've heard many Missouri fans lament the knee injury that befell Kelly Thames before the 1994-95 season. "He was never the same player after that," they say (though I think that's overblown; he was still awfully good). Bowers, on the other hand, is simply and demonstrably better than before he sat out a year with an ACL tear. One of the great stats of the early season is that Bowers has made more three-pointers through nine games this year (11) than he did in his first three years combined (10 - oddly, all in his sophomore season). Maybe he's a touch less explosive than before (though you wouldn't know by the filthy dunk he dropped on Appalachain State), but he's a more complete player. Stronger, more patient, a better shooter. He has a chance to be one of the great stories in college basketball this year. He's currently sixth in the SEC in scoring, third in field-goal percentage and thirteenth in rebounding, and he'd lead the league in three-point percentage if he had enough shots to qualify.

Unfortunately, Bowers is Mizzou's sole consistent perimeter threat at the moment (Phil Pressey is the only other Tiger making more than a third of his three-point attempts), which is going to be a major drag on Missouri's SEC title hopes unless someone else emerges. Which brings us to . . .

A Brown of Some Renown: Jabari Brown makes his debut for Mizzou on Monday night against South Carolina State. Brown, who transferred from Oregon after playing just two games as a freshman last year, was more highly touted coming out of high school than any Tiger since Linas Kleiza in 2003. Brown was regarded as one of - maybe the - top shooter in the class of 2011, and a good enough ball-handler to log minutes at the point. Those are exactly the qualities that Missouri lost when Mike Dixon departed, and they're also the qualities the Tigers most desperately need. Frank Haith may not put unrealistic expectations on Brown's shoulders, but some fans undoubtedly will. If he lives up to those unrealistic expectations, this team could still have the talent and depth to be a marquee player come March. But it still needs to find some chemistry.

Brown joins an impressive list of Missouri players to join the team between semesters. The Tigers' last two McDonald's All-Americans - Albert White and Travon Bryant - became eligible just in time for the holidays, and Jason Conley had led the nation in scoring as a freshman at VMI before first suiting up for Mizzou in December 2003. There was also Paul O'Liney, who walked on to the team just in time to help the Tigers win the Big Eight championship with a 14-0 record in 1994.

No pressure, kid.

Speaking of the Holidays, part I: We'll have a special Braggin' Rights edition next week, but until then know that the Fighting Illini are 11-0 in their first season with coach John Groce. While many of their early wins weren't terribly impressive (one-point victories over Hawaii and Gardner-Webb, for instance), the Illini emphatically validated their resume this past weekend with an 85-74 win at then tenth-ranked Gonzaga. Brandon Paul, who seems to be in his fourteenth year of eligibility, scored 35 in Spokane, and he leads the team at 19.0 points per game. Paul has never beaten Missouri. The Tigers will have to find a way to contain him in order to extend their win streak against Illinois.

Speaking of the Holidays, part II: Yeah, the self-promotion is embarrassing at this point. Just know that this is a gift option for someone on whom you don't care to spend a lot.

Speaking of the Holidays, part III: I leave you with the timeless perfection that is Darlene Love.

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