Kim Anderson's first game as Missouri's head coach tips off tonight at 7:00. The Tigers play William Jewell at the Hearnes Center. With Johnathan Williams III still nursing an offseason injury, Mizzou won't be sporting its complete lineup tonight, but this will still provide our first look at five freshmen and a new-look backcourt.
Anderson expects his lineup and rotations to evolve during the early stretches of the season, and for now, he’s not opposed to a point guard by committee.
"I’ve got three, and I’m happy with all three of them," said Anderson. [...]
"I’ve got to be honest with you. I won’t hesitate to play all three of them at the same time." [...]
"They’re all three capable of doing it," Anderson said. "At this point, I’m not ready to say, ‘Wes, hey, you’ve got to bring the ball up.’ Or Tramaine or Keith or whatever. I don’t really care. It depends on the game situation."
With Williams out, Anderson says he could start multiple freshmen, and Wednesday's night game will see a lot of experimentation with a lot of lineups. But with the youth involved, he's tried to keep things simple so far.
The coaching staff has tried to keep things simple with such a young and inexperienced roster. Anderson said he hopes the Tigers will be able to run a significantly more complex offense in a month than it is right now. Missouri has started working on running some zone defense so it can throw several different looks at opponents.
"We’ve spent most of our time in man-to-man," Anderson said. It’s been "up and down. What’s frustrating is you work on it, and then you get out in a scrimmage situation, and sometimes guys don’t react the way you want them to. But I think we’re getting there. I think we’re way ahead of where we were when we started. One thing we haven’t done enough of, and that’s play. We haven’t gone up and down enough because we’ve spent a lot of time teaching, a lot of time, correcting and trying to teach technique and all that stuff."
Norm Stewart disciple Kim Anderson with some breaking news: "We have put in a zone defense."— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 27, 2014
The number of unknowns for this team is incredible. Ken Pomeroy projected Missouri just 98th overall, with a projected record of 14-15, and one can totally see how you might get there. Mizzou must replace its three leading scorers from last year's mediocre squad. Only three returnees contributed even 10 minutes per game last year -- Williams, Ryan Rosburg, and Wes Clark -- and they combined for only about 15 points per game. It was easy to see potential in Williams and Clark, but they haven't proven themselves as go-to contributors yet.
Moreover, it is conceivable that at least four of the five freshmen will play key roles. Maybe this works out just fine, but from a projections standpoint, it's understandable why it might not.
Still, it doesn't take an overt number of "ifs" to turn this team into something pretty good. If Johnathan Williams III, who averaged six points and seven boards last year, can turn into more of a 13 & 8 guy (and when he was asked to step up and become a scorer last year, he acquitted himself alright), Mizzou will have a go-to guy. If one of the freshmen, perhaps Montaque Gill-Caesar, can pitch in about 12 points per game, with the others playing generally competent ball, Mizzou might have enough offense to get by. If Ryan Rosburg and Keanau Post can combine for about 12 points and 10 rebounds, Mizzou will have a legitimate post-presence and lots of fouls to give. And if the backcourt is able to make its share of open shots and play the type of defense Kim Anderson expects, this will be a pretty salty team from top to bottom.
With those four "ifs," I can turn Mizzou into a borderline NCAA Tournament team. All four are realistic, and none of the four are anywhere close to givens. But while 2014-15 is important, Missouri will be playing for 2015-16 and beyond this year. A large percentage of its most talented players are freshmen and sophomores, which could mean exciting things for future seasons. As long as Mizzou can show hints of interesting ball, win enough games to keep the vultures from circling in recruiting, and play better ball in March than November, I think I can live with that.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>Looking forward to working with <a href="https://twitter.com/BenArnetMU">@BenArnetMU</a> and the <a href="https://twitter.com/SECNetwork">@SECNetwork</a> Plus as a color commentator for <a href="https://twitter.com/MizzouHoops">@MizzouHoops</a> games. Excited for the season!</p>— Jarrett Sutton (@JarrettTSutton) <a href="https://twitter.com/JarrettTSutton/status/527127093608738816">October 28, 2014</a></blockquote>
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The product on the court could have a pretty high level of variance this season, even if or when Kim Anderson proves his coaching mettle. Unknowns are both scary and exciting, and I expect to use both of those adjectives pretty frequently this year.
Post-Dispatch: Live from Columbia: Anderson talks Mizzou opener
The Missourian: Williams III out Wednesday; Missouri men's basketball starting lineup remains a mystery