MUtigers.com: Mizzou Basketball Opens Its 2013-14 Campaign Friday
KC Star: MU-Southeastern Louisiana basketball preview
Post-Dispatch: MISSOURI VS. SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA
PowerMizzou: Hoops Media Day, 11/6
Fox Sports MW: TV information for Mizzou's basketball game Friday
Mizzou Network: PREVIEW: Mizzou Hoops to open season Friday
A year ago, I didn't really know what to think about the Missouri basketball team's prospects for 2012-13. I saw phrases like "Top 10 talent" getting thrown around, and I saw the Tigers getting quite a bit of respect, but I struggled with the thought of Mizzou having to replace six members of a seven-man rotation. Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers had played together for one year two seasons earlier, and aside from some AAU ties, that was basically all the chemistry this team had heading into the year. The hype was a bit unfair, setting the bar at a height it probably shouldn't have been.
I expected to see a decent team that got better as the year progressed; in a lot of ways, that's what happened. Mizzou was playing pretty well (a top-30 level) before Laurence Bowers got hurt, and though the Tigers slacked a bit in the weeks that followed, they perhaps peaked in the first week of March. The Kentucky game at Rupp Arena got away from them, but they still won four of five late in the season, beating Florida at home and smoking South Carolina, LSU, and (especially) Arkansas.
The Arkansas win, however, was basically it. Mizzou lost at Tennessee to finish the regular season, sleep-walked by Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament before losing to Ole Miss, then got blitzed at the start of the game by Larry Eustachy's Colorado State Rams in the NCAA Tournament and quietly bowed out. The team peaked about two weeks too soon, basically.
In 2013-14, the expectations seem dampened a bit, and I think that's a very good thing. Frank Haith's third Mizzou squad has quite a few interesting pieces -- Jordan Clarkson, Earnest Ross, and Jabari Brown should form one of the SEC's better, more physically impressive backcourts; Johnathan Williams III looks like he can be a boards-and-dunks guy as he learns how to play college basketball, and there's plenty of size, rebounding ability, quickness, and instant-offense shooting (JANK) off the bench.
Once again, however, the built-in chemistry is almost non-existent. Among the projected starters, only Brown and Ross have played together, and they've done so for one season. We learned all about chemistry in 2011-12, but it looks like we have one more season-long experimentation to deal with before the continuity can actually build. (Then again, there's a chance that both Clarkson and Brown could go pro after this year, so...)
The potential issues for this team were made obvious in last week's exhibition against Central Missouri. Foul trouble could doom Missouri both on the interior and perimeter; anytime Brown and Clarkson aren't both on the court, the offense grinds to a halt, and it's going to take a while for Haith and his coaching staff to figure out a big-man rotation. Lots of players have weaknesses that could mask their strengths, and there is no obvious hierarchy just yet. The early schedule is not particularly rough, but prepare yourself for some setbacks.
The hope, of course, is that by the time the Illinois game rolls around, near the end of non-conference play, the rotation has gelled, players are used to the new foul rules, and we can see what this team's post-Pressey identity actually looks like. For now, though, plan for a lot of stops and starts. Hopefully there are no damaging losses, but that possibility isn't off the table. This team has a high ceiling, but it will almost certainly take a while to reach it. And hopefully one of these years we can see what a team with continuity looks like again.
We have no idea what's going to happen this year. It's both thrilling and frustrating, and we should probably be prepared for plenty of both of those adjectives in the months ahead.