Story by Eric Short
With seven athletic transfers set to debut for the Missouri men’s basketball team this season, it may be easy to think that the 2012-2013 Tigers will again be focused on putting up big offensive numbers.
Not so fast.
While Missouri will again be explosive on offense, head coach Frank Haith hopes that the high flow of transfers will pay dividends on the defensive end of the court.
“We have so many more bodies than we did last year. This allows us to be more aggressive on defense when we have that depth,” Haith said. “We have a chance to be an outstanding defensive team. I don’t know if we will be the same type of offensive team but I know we will have a better presence on the defensive end.”
Missouri averaged 80.3 points per game last season, but only return two major contributors from an offense that ranked sixth in the NCAA in scoring.
The large amount of new players makes defensive play vital for Missouri, while the team develops chemistry on the other end of the floor.
During his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Haith said he is looking for one newcomer in particular to make a difference on defense.
“I hope that Keion Bell accepts the role of being the guy that can be a lockdown defender, to be the guy who always guards the other team’s best guy. He’s capable of being that guy and being unbelievable at it,” Haith said.
Bell, a senior transfer from Pepperdine, made his presence known at Mizzou Madness last Friday with a highlight reel dunk. The 6-foot-4 guard also possesses the type of athleticism that can make him the backbone of what could be a stout Tiger defense.
“I believe that I can be a shut down defender here. I’ll definitely do my best,” Bell said. “With my athleticism and recovery speed, that is something I can do. Our main focus in practice right now is keeping up the defensive intensity and keeping our defensive rotations intact.”
Joining Bell as athletic transfers with length are 6-foot-5 junior guard Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Oregon who will become eligible to compete in January.
“Our length is going to give us the ability to knock a lot more balls loose,” Haith said of a defense that led the Big 12 in steals last year. “We will just have a better defensive presence on the defensive end than last year and will do a great job of protecting the paint.”
Haith also stressed that his team’s length will help alleviate the rebounding troubles that plagued the Tigers last season. Missouri ranked 279th in the NCAA in rebounding during the 2011-2012 season.
New face Alex Oriakhi will have a shot to improve Missouri’s rebounding woes. Oriakhi, a 6-foot-10 senior transfer form Connecticut, contributed to the school’s 2011 national championship victory and is expected to be a force around the basket.
Revived big man Laurence Bowers is prepared to help around the rim as well. The 6-foot-8 senior is coming off of a torn ACL, but said his knee is now structurally perfect and that he’s ready for Missouri’s first game.
“I feel great, I’m jumping from awkward positions to block shots and taking charges in the paint,” Bowers said. “We have a chance to be the best defensive team I have ever been apart of here at Mizzou. When you’ve got a guy like Oriakhi playing down low with you, it’s great.”
The new-look Missouri Tigers will open their season with an exhibition game against SIU-Edwardsville on November 10 at Mizzou Arena.