As weird as the pivot from Matt Painter to Frank Haith was, year one went about as you could have hoped. NCAA Tournament collapse aside, a 30-5 record, a Big 12 tournament championship, and the most efficient offense in the country is a heckuva season. 2011-12 was a success.
Going in to the 2012-13 there was a lot of hope. The Tigers graduated five of their top seven players from that 30 win team, but they were returning Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Jr and had a host of transfers to fill in the gaps, as well as the return of Laurence Bowers from an ACL tear.
The Missouri season which followed was a disappointment. It started when the program suspended guard Michael Dixon for the ever-ominous “violation of team rules” in late October. The details which emerged following the suspension led to Dixon leaving the program and University. We’re not here to re-litigate the events or what kind of person Dixon is. We’re here to simply answer the question:
“What if... Michael Dixon was a member of the 2012-13 team?”
That Tigers team finished 23-11 and found themselves bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament in an 8-9 matchup. The disappointing end to the season coupled with the early exit in 2012 soured the fanbase enough on the Frank Haith era that he bounced for the Tulsa job the next year. Missouri turned to Kim Anderson to solve their problems and he spiraled things instead. The loss to Norfolk State was upsetting, but Frank Haith was set up for a truly great season in year 2, and he lost the biggest of key players going into the start of the season.
- Marcus Denmon
- Kim English
- Ricardo Ratliffe
- Matt Pressey
- Steve Moore
- Phil Pressey, 32.1 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 6.4 apg, 113 ORtg in 2012
- Laurence Bowers, 24.8 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 114 ORtg in 2011
- Michael Dixon Jr, 26.7 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 3.3 apg, 122 ORtg in 2012
This is the production they were bringing back. Dixon actually had the highest usage on the 2012 team, with a 24.4% of possessions. So bringing back three double digit scorers and importing these guys:
- Earnest Ross, 25.3 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 101.8 ORtg in 2011 at Auburn
- Keion Bell, 29.7 mpg, 18.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 96.2 ORtg in 2011 at Pepperdine
- Alex Oriakhi, 21.5 mpg, 6.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 100.8 ORtg in 2012 at UConn
- Jabari Brown, former 5-star wing, transfer from Oregon
- Tony Criswell, 3-star JUCO Combo Forward
- Stefan Jankovic, 3-star Freshman Combo Forward
- Negus Webster-Chan, 4-star Freshman Combo Guard
- Ryan Rosburg, 3-star Freshman Post
Here is what this roster produced (keep in mind Bowers and Bell missed games due to injury, and Brown wasn’t eligible until semester, missing nine games):
2012-13 Missouri Roster
Without Michael Dixon on the floor in 2012-13, Mizzou’s offense dipped from 1.20 to 1.10 points per possession (raw data per Hooplens), and they fell from 1st to 15th in the efficiency ratings on Kenpom. A large portion of the dip came from Phil Pressey, who had a stellar 113.3 rating as a sophomore, but it dipped to just 100.8 as a junior. This is despite an improved Assist rate of 33.3 to 37.8.
In 11-12, with both Dixon and Pressey on the floor together, Missouri’s already lethal offense was even better. They averaged 1.27 points per possession vs just 1.15 for all other lineups. With just Dixon on the floor the offense was better than their average with 1.22 points per possession, and 1.17 without. Pressey’s raw lineup numbers actually caused a dip in offensive efficiency, down to just 1.09. The contributing factor, an increase in minutes, and an increase in responsibility. and no viable backup to handle the ball against pressure.
So in our exercise, with Dixon available to gobble up the rest of the point guard minutes, Pressey is able to maintain his offensive efficiency, and it bolster Mizzou down the stretch of many tough games they would have otherwise lost.
I mainly used this, the final five games of KenPom data in the lineups to try and dole out the minutes:
(If you aren’t interested in how I arrived at the minutes breakdown skip this next section) We’re basically going to eliminate Keion Bell’s minutes at the point, and trim Pressey’s minutes there to 80%. I’m going to nix Webster-Chan’s combo guard minutes and give those to Dixon, as well as shave 20.5% from Brown, and 23% from Bell. The remaining minutes go to Dixon. Brown recovers the rest of his time on the wing, adding 8.5% to his existing 36% to get him to a total of 70% (or 28 mpg).
That gets Dixon to our desired number of 72.5%, or 29 minutes. From there I project the additional minutes to spread guys down the lineup a bit. Bell and Ross play fewer minutes, but do pick up more time playing down a position. Missouri goes to smaller lineups with more frequency.
Here is what I’m projecting:
2012-13 Missouri Roster Plus Michael Dixon
|Michael Dixon, Jr||34||29||12.9||23.1||118.1|
We’re going to pretend Missouri’s defense is about the same, if not a little better. But the offense goes from top 15 to top 5. Top five would put them at around 119.0 adjusted efficiency on offense, that move alone would vault the team into the top 10 in KenPom.
That year Missouri lost 11 basketball games, six of those games were by less than a possession (either 3 points or less). We’re going to concern ourselves with five of those, since they all occurred in the regular season. So here’s how the season now turns out:
SIU-E, Alcorn State, Nicholls State — Mizzou still runs all three of them to open the season. They then head to the Battle for Atlantis and beat Stanford before getting bounced by Louisville again. Having Dixon around this time means the loss isn’t as ugly as the Tigers are able to handle the ball a little better but don’t quite have the defense to slow the Cardinals down. They still recover and beat a very good VCU squad, and finish the rest of their cupcake non-con schedule running off four more wins before Bragging Rights.
Missouri still wins a close game against Illinois, but they’re able to extend their lead a little earlier in the game behind some big shots by Dixon, as he has 15 second half points.
Heading to Pauley Pavilion, Missouri was feeling good 10-1, they’re nationally ranked and their full roster is playing well. In this game, remember Mizzou went on a run in the second to last frame to take a seven point lead 86-79. From there they wilted a bit, turnovers and missed shots the Tigers only scored two points in the final four minutes. But with Dixon in the lineup they have more sure hands down the stretch, and he’s able to make enough plays to keep this game in the hands of the Tigers.
Mizzou then beats Bucknell in the non-conference finale to finish 12-1.
Mizzou still opens up conference play by beating Alabama, but lose Laurence Bowers to an injury before the Ole Miss game, which they — again — show up flat for. They beat Georgia, get flattened by Florida, then win two in a row before welcoming back Bowers for a road game at LSU.
LSU was awful and 1-5 in conference play. Dixon-less Tigers were sluggish, but with a senior guard they come out with a little more energy and they hold the slumping fighting Johnny Bryants down and win with a few late free throws.
They crush Auburn again, then head to the road where instead of a close loss to a bad Texas A&M squad, Dixon again is a difference maker and Mizzou pulls off the win. They’re now 21-3 after wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi State, and head to Arkansas. Keion Bell still has monster game, but instead of handing 30 minutes to a struggling Jabari Brown, Dixon handles those minutes and keeps eight game winning streak alive. They find a way to take care of Florida at home and are now 24-3 going into a trip to Rupp Arena, and ranked in the top 10 and at 11-2 they’re tied atop the league standings holding the tie breaker over Florida.
Unfortunately, Kentucky knocks them off their perch, and right out of the top 10. It’s hard to remember or consider a world where an overtime road loss in Rupp Arena would knock you down a peg like that, but this was Cal’s worst team in Lexington, and they had already lost Nerlens Noel for the season and headed towards an early exit in the NIT.
But Mizzou would run off four straight wins to finish the year, including a road win to finish the season over Cuonzo Martin’s Tennessee squad. In that game Mizzou was ahead and handling the Vols until an 18-3 run in the second half. Dixon is able to prevent that run from being as awful as it was, Mizzou maintains control and finishes the regular season: 27-4 and 15-3 in conference play. 15-3 is the top overall seed in the SEC.
Here’s the top 10 from that time:
- Gonzaga: 30-2
- Duke: 27-4
- Indiana: 26-5
- Louisville: 26-5
- Georgetown: 24-5
- Michigan: 25-6
- Kansas: 26-5
- Michigan State: 24-7
- Miami (FL): 24-6
- Ohio State: 23-7
I’m not sure exactly where Missouri would finish in this list, but I’m going to guess somewhere between 4 and 7. The Top seed in the SEC, a top 10 offense and sitting in the top 10 of KenPom and the AP Poll.
Here are the seeds for the SEC tournament:
- Missouri: 15-3
- Florida: 14-4
- Kentucky: 12-6
- Ole Miss: 12-6
- Alabama: 12-6
- Tennessee: 10-8
- Arkansas: 9-9
- Georgia: 9-9
- LSU: 8-10
- Vanderbilt: 8-10
- Texas A&M: 6-12
- South Carolina: 4-14
- Miss State: 4-14
- Auburn: 3-15
Missouri gets the double bye as the top overall seed, with Florida in the 2nd seed, Kentucky is 3rd, Ole Miss is 4th, all with double byes. As the top seed Mizzou gets the 8-9 winner which is still Georgia-LSU.
Here are the Quarterfinals and how they play out:
1. Mizzou 76, 9. LSU 66
4. Ole Miss 68, 5. Alabama 65
2. Florida 80, 10. Vanderbilt 65
6. Tennessee 58, 3. Kentucky 54
(Hey, Zo playing true to form in a slog of a game but pulls the upset over the struggling ‘Cats). I’m going to keep with Ole Miss as the tournament champions, so they upset Missouri in the Semi-Finals here, beating Florida in the Finals. Dixon tries to match Marshall Henderson shot for shot, but Henderson is just too unconscious and he hits four threes it the second half to upset the top seeded Tigers.
So Missouri sits at 28-5 after the season and awaits their fate for the NCAA Tournament. Florida won the SEC in reality and got a 3 seed at 26-7. Mizzou was two games better, but had a weaker schedule. So they’re looking at a low 2 seed, or a high 3 seed. A low 2 seed would put them in the West instead of Ohio State, facing a top seeded Gonzaga in a potential elite 8 matchup. A high 3 seed would give them the Midwest Region (where they landed as a 9 seed) with Louisville and Duke.
I’m going to guess that Mizzou gets the high 3, they get the Midwest Region and a first round matchup against Valparaiso, who they handily defeat.
The round of 32 faces them off against Memphis, in a rematch of the Sweet 16 in 2008. Memphis is a little oversewed and no match for a powerful Mizzou team. Michael Dixon has a great game attacking the rim against the team he actually played for a season later, Laurence Bowers shoots the ball well against his hometown team, and Alex Oriakhi is too much on the glass. Frank Haith finally has a signature win he was thwarted by a year earlier as he wins a 30th game for the second year in a row and moves Mizzou into the Sweet 16. Facing down a powerful Duke team.
Instead of green, imagine it’s gold!
Mizzou sits at 30-5, facing the bluest of blue bloods in the Sweet 16. Frank Haith has won 30 games two years in a row, and despite the early upsetting exit the year before, this years run has made up for it.
Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon, Jabari Brown, Laurence Bowers, and Alex Oriakhi face off against Quinn Cook, Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee. A fierce Duke squad, but not an unbeatable one.
The game is a tough one and Missouri is ready. Dixon plays like a man possessed, Bowers finds his stroke early, and the Tigers own the glass against the Blue Devils. Curry’s shooting keeps Duke in the game, but Missouri comes up big when it matters. Dixon is the key by sinking needed free throws to keep the Tigers two possessions ahead in the final minutes and they squeak out a high scoring game 88-83. The Missouri Tigers move on to the Elite Eight for the first time under Haith, and the third time since Quin Snyder took over in 1999.
The momentum on their side isn’t enough to beat Louisville, however. The eventual National Champions would take down their banner, but they still won the games, and Louisville preventing Mizzou’s first Final Four in school history the season they would end up being forced to forfeit is the kind of perfect Mizzou sports poetry for which I’ll end this journey with.
Two 30 win seasons in a row is enough to keep the fans behind Haith, and it’s enough to garner Haith an extension and a pay raise. He keeps that momentum moving forward and is able to bolster the roster more than what they had to surround Brown, Ross, and Jordan Clarkson the next season. It’s still a step back from 30 wins, but the back-to-back 30 win seasons helps bolster their recruiting, and the combination of transfers and incoming freshmen ends up being the kind of mixture which keeps Frank Haith, and the fan base, happy with each other... for at least a while.
Maybe eventually Haith falls back to the level Snyder had the team. Good, but not really great. Maybe fans eventually turn on him like they did during the 2013 season, and into the 2014 season. Maybe momentum from these seasons is enough to keep the staff in place and recruiting guys like Jayson Tatum, or being able to land Tyler Cook and Xavier Sneed. If only... what if?