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October 9, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 28 Missouri

STRENGTHS: Missouri returns four starters and five of its top six scorers from a team that went 23-11 and reached the NCAA tournament last season. The Tigers figured to bring back all their key players until senior F Laurence Bowers tore an ACL last week. The Tigers have extraordinary depth in the backcourt. The backcourt is headed by 1,000-point scorers Marcus Denmon and Kim English, but they should get plenty of help from Michael Dixon, Matt Pressey and Phil Pressey. Denmon, one of the top returning guards in the nation, was a first-team All-Big 12 pick who averaged 16.9 points and 3.5 rebounds while sinking 82 3-pointers last season. He also made exactly half his shots from the floor. English, a third-team All-Big 12 selection, has scored in double figures each of the past two seasons. Dixon averaged 10.3 points per game and delivered nearly twice as many assists as turnovers last season. Phil Pressey doesn't score much, but he ranked seventh in the Big 12 at 3.9 assists per game.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
C Steve Moore (6-9/267, Sr.)
F Ricardo Ratliffe (6-9/240, Sr.)
G Marcus Denmon (6-3/185, Sr.)
G Michael Dixon (6-1/185, Jr.)
G Kim English (6-6/200, Sr.)
KEY RESERVES
G Matt Pressey (6-2/195, Sr.)
G Phil Pressey (5-10/175, Soph.)

Coach: Frank Haith (1st season at Missouri)
Last season's record: 23-11 overall, 8-8 in Big 12 (T-5th in league)
Postseason: Lost to Cincinnati in first round of NCAA tournament
Final regular-season RPI: 37th
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 2008

WEAKNESSES: The Tigers need all those talented guards because they have a serious hole in the frontcourt. Bowers was the player Missouri could least afford to lose because this team lacks quality big men. Bowers, a 6-7 forward, averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds and ranked second in the Big 12 with 62 blocks. His injury leaves Ricardo Ratliffe as Missouri's top frontcourt player. Ratliffe, a 6-9 senior forward, averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks last season. Missouri has done just fine with a backcourt-oriented team the past few years, but the Tigers' lack of size is particularly notable this season. Missouri also could need some time to adjust to new coach Frank Haith, who came from Miami after Arkansas hired away Mike Anderson. Missouri ranked second nationally in steals last season while playing a style Anderson branded as "the fastest 40 minutes in basketball." Missouri will continue playing at a brisk tempo this season, but it won't be the same breakneck pace it employed in the past.

[More Missouri coverage: PowerMizzou.com]

OVERVIEW: Missouri seemed like an obvious top-25 pick before Bowers' injury. Without Bowers in the lineup, having the Tigers even this high might seem like a leap of faith. Missouri's backcourt is outstanding, but the Tigers' lack of size will be a problem. What happens if Ratliffe gets in foul trouble? Missouri needs a breakthrough season from 6-9 senior F Steve Moore or 6-8 redshirt freshman F Kadeem Green in order to match the success it enjoyed during Anderson's tenure. Missouri will remain a headache for Big 12 opponents because of its large collection of ball-hawking guards, but the lack of quality big men will prevent the Tigers from seriously challenging Kansas or Baylor for the conference title.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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