There's a legitimate chance that Mizzou will go through some real growing pains next season, as the program makes the final stage of the transition from Mike Anderson to Frank Haith's players. Gone are the final to holdovers from the Anderson era, Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey. That of course is true as well for two of our one-year transfers, Keion Bell and Alex Oriakhi. This team will be talented, but it will be young, inexperienced talent, especially in the frontcourt.
I'm not sure that the timing is all that good for that right now. This past season would have been the perfect time for a rebuilding team to thrive in the SEC finish in the top half of the league. But I think we'll see that change now. Kentucky and Florida will be elite. Tennessee shouldn't be all that far behind, and teams like Alabama, Vanderbilt, LSU, and Ole Miss should be real tournament contenders. Ole Miss actually doesn't return that much, but I'm betting on the Auburn fan base's favorite guard to make something happen. So the question is where Mizzou fits in to all that.
Of course, we can't know that until the season starts. Much will ride on the development incoming talent. Jordan Clarkson is the most obvious candidate for a newcomer to break through, and he should do a solid job sharing the point guard spot with Wes Clark. But our greatest need is in the post. Whether Missouri can hang with good teams is going to depend on whether Tony Criswell can become a go-to post option, and whether Johnathan WIlliams III or Kenau Post can develop quickly enough to be major contributors. Everything I'm about to say hinges on that.
With that said, even in the best case scenario, I seriously doubt Missouri can be near the top of the league with Kentucky and Florida. In my mind, both enter the season as serious national title contenders, and if Mizzou couldn't be at that level last season, I don't see it happening now. The goal should be to stay solidly in that second tier, with Tennesee, Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU.The SEC should be much better this coming season, and it seems very likely that this would be enough to put this team right in the heart of the tournament discussion. Missouri should have the opportunity to pick up plenty of quality wins in conference, and given the expected road struggles, they really must hold serve at home against everyone besides Kentucky and Florida. If you can do that, you'll take your chances that you can win a couple of road games.
It's impossible to predict what Mizzou's conference record could look like, without seeing a schedule. That is the world of a 14 team league and the corresponding unbalanced scheduling. We could get Florida and Kentucky twice each, or once each, or some combination, and you'd think that could drastically affect the final record. But by looking at the talent level, I am willing to guess where we might finish in comparison to the other teams in the league. I've already said that I think that Kentucky and Florida are all but out of reach. Tennessee should be awfully good as well, so I see them finishing ahead of Missouri. Missouri absolutely could leapfrog into fourth place at that point. But given what LSU, Ole Miss, and Alabama (even after the transfer of Trevor Lacy) return, I am going to predict Missouri to finish 7th in the league, and win anywhere from 8 to 10 conference games. That would not be remotely ideal, but you could do worse in a total rebuilding season.
So what do you think? Too pessimistic? To optimistic? Just plain stupid for writing something like this six months before the season?