Well, we're here. We've come to our final position preview piece, the BIGS. The guys that will live in the paint and go after boards, get the put backs and hopefully have a block party or two in them this season. For a quick refresher on how our other position previews went, you can check out the point guards here, combo guards here, wings here, and combo forwards here.
For our final piece we'll be looking at the big men on the roster, the guys who in a video game would be called a center, but we all know those don't really exist anymore. The bigs on this roster are Jakeenan Gant, Kevin Puryear, Ryan Rosburg and Russell Woods. As always, we've got takes from Chris Turner, Belegcam, Jaeger, Sam Snelling and myself.
And this is the position that I'm least sure about. Mizzou had, to put it charitably, a few issues here last season, and it's still the place with the most question marks. Gant I have penciled in to start at the 4, so he's unlikely to get big minutes here. That leaves Puryear, Rosburg, and Woods, and I honestly don't have a clue who's going to seize the spot. My expectation is that all of them will play early on, and the coaches will go with whoever's looked best to get the bulk of the minutes in conference play.
Puryear and Woods are the newcomers, filled with bright shiny promise for the glass-half-full crowd. From what we've seen, they're backing it up so far, but I am not really one to put much stock in what happens before the games start counting. We'll see what happens, and I'm confident both guys will be given plenty of chances to show what they can do.
Ryan Rosburg is the polar opposite: we've seen lots and lots from him, and no one is expecting much of anything. Improvement would be most welcome, of course, and he certainly doesn't lack for motivation. Mizzou's first four-year player since Laurence Bowers (insert boiling rage at the roster management follies of Frank Haith and Mike Anderson here) has a chance to go out on a high note, and here's hoping that he does.
The true big man has gone the way of the dinosaur it seems, they're so rare! Now, in yesterday's post I said Jakeenan is gonna be starting at the combo forward spot, which would leave this spot open for someone else and when Mizzou is not running a smaller lineup where Gant is the biggest guy on the floor, I expect that person to be Woods at first. Woods is not your typical big, standing at only 6'8 and 225 lbs, but he's strong and showed at the JC level that he can get boards. He reminds me a little bit of Ricardo Ratliffe. Now before anyone starts saying I'm saying he's the next Ratliffe, I'm not, just similar in style of play and ability. I like his game a lot and with the squad Mizzou has, he should fit right in with our quicker guards and wing players who can shoot. Kevin Puryear is a little bit of an x factor in that all we've heard are wonderful things from practice and that he's really using his size and strength well, but he's still a freshman, and freshman do freshman things. I think the starting spot is his for the taking eventually if he becomes the player his coaches think he can become. Now, to Rosburg. Everyone seems to love him, whether it be because he's a Missouri kid (#TRUESON!!!!), he bears a passing resemblance to Bill Connelly (caucasian guy with some hair on his head), or because he's been at Mizzou for four years so people feel like they know him. Whatever it may be, what I said last April in our player wrap up applies today, "If Ryan is starting (outside of senior night) most of the season next year would mean to me some of the now freshman, then sophomores didn't or aren't progressing the way we'd like to see them." And I still believe that to be true. Rosburg is a nice role player and he should be coming off the bench to spell Woods, or Gant or even Puryear. But the style of play this team will have to run to be successful, in my opinion does not suit his current skill set. He's had a tough four years at Mizzou and I hope this last season can be a lot of fun for him, contributing in his way, and that he gets a few big dunks at home that get people really excited.
That all being said, the post runs through Woods with a dash of Puryear this season.
I alluded to this in the last post, but Gant looks like a pure stretch 4. He's not going to post guys up and overpower them, he's going to beat them by forcing them off the block to defend his jumper - which looks improved this year - and then using his superior athleticism and quickness to get past them. And by being the bounciest player on the court. Seriously, this kid is a human pogo stick. But he doesn't look comfortable at the center spot. He's going to do some quality rebounding there, no question, but he's going to be a lot better at the 4 position, where he can take better advantage of his bounce and jump shot.
Ryan Rosburg looks like who I wanted him to be last year. He's not going to start, and he's not going to play huge minutes, but he's big, strong, and can come in and provide some solid minutes at the 5 spot, especially against teams with big bruisers in the paint. I do think it's important to note that he has completely overhauled his free throw shot since last year - 2 for 2 against Western! - and he's actually developed a counter move when a player takes away his patented spin move. He had a pretty nifty combo against MO Western where he faked the spin, then pivoted back the other direction for an up-and-under, and he also hit a nice little jump hook on one occasion. His athleticism is still limited, of course, but this year could be a nice little redemption story for him. I hope it is, because he deserves to end on a high note after suffering through a brutal junior campaign.
Puryear is probably too short to play the 5 spot, but he's a lot stronger out there than I anticipated, so he may get the opportunity against teams that don't have great size in the paint. If he's already this strong, it's possible he develops into a guy who can play the 5 well, but I'm not sure he's there yet. That's not to understate his ability to contribute, though: last year, Ryan Rosburg was our starting center, backed up by Keanau Post. This year, we have 4 guys who can play that position, and 2 of them are better at it than Rosburg. Even the somewhat undersized Puryear is probably an upgrade over Rosburg against all but the biggest 5s. That's a major, major improvement in depth.
I'm saving the best for last. Russell Woods looked very, very promising against MO Western. His defense was every bit as good as billing, and he could be the kind of presence we haven't had in the paint since Oriahki graduated. What surprised me was how good he looked on offense. He did disappear at times - although that may be because there were plenty of other guys doing plenty of scoring on Friday - but for a guy whose scouting report from juco said "defense and rebounding are good, offense a work in progress," Woods is already a better offensive post player than anybody on the team the last two years. He's not huge for his height, but he's startlingly quick for a big man, and displayed a much more refined offensive game than I expected. He's not the strongest post player I've ever seen, but he's got a really nice blend of strength and quickness that could make for a really, really fun guy to watch. If Woods isn't starting at the 5 by conference play, I will be absolutely shocked. He's probably backed up there by Rosburg and Puryear in various combinations, with maybe a little Gant when they want to go small.
I really don't think you'll see Gant much in this true post role. Even when the lineup is smaller, I think you'll see guys like Puryear or Woods playing in the traditional role on defense, and letting Gant play the role of help defense shot blocker and rebounder. We saw Puryear start, and that lined up with what I was hearing for a few weeks, I personally thought that Coach A would go a little more conservative off the bat and start the experience in Rosburg. He didn't and went with the freshman. I don't want to sound like I'm banging on Ryan, but I really feel the less he plays the better the signs are for Mizzou in the post. I do think that Rosburg can provide solid enough minutes, and if he can just convert around the basket and at the free throw line this year, I'll consider his minutes plus minutes. I really liked what I saw from Russell Woods in the exhibition. Woods is a guy that I've been trying to get a read on but haven't heard that much positives. So for him to show up, convert baskets and rebound is a big gainer for the Tigers inside. The more he plays, the more it allows Mizzou to really play witha smaller lineup as well as Puryear and Allen can sub for Gant, and that could really help space the floor.
Gant could play here, but as everyone else has said, he's a better fit at the 4 where he can force defenders off the block rather than posting them up. Rosburg is the easiest, and safest choice at post. He's a senior, and one of the few players who have stayed out of trouble. He'll earn some solid minutes regardless if he's starting or coming off the bench. Puryear got the nod against MO Western, and I think he'll garner the most minutes this year at the post. Expect Russell Woods to be a solid bench contributor this year.
And that'll do it, thanks for reading these pieces and we hope you're ready for the new season.