COLUMBIA — When Frank Haith took over the Missouri men's basketball program, he might not have known just how lucky he was to have two point guards in his relatively small arsenal of players.
Sophomore Phil Pressey and junior Michael Dixon play different styles of basketball, but they share something that can't be ignored: Both players are necessary to Missouri's success.
No. 5 Missouri (17-1, 4-1 Big 12)
at No. 3 Baylor (17-1, 4-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: The Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
Both are small — Pressey stands 5 feet 10 inches tall, Dixon is 6 foot 1 — but both are great ball handlers. They're quick, and often dash, juke and slip away from and between defenders on their way to the basket. On defense, their speed keeps them glued to much larger players in a frenzy of motion aimed at stealing the ball.
"It is a tremendous luxury when you have two guys that can both handle the ball," Haith said after Monday's 70-51 home win against Texas A&M that put the No. 5-ranked Tigers at 17-1. "Particularly Phil who can get you in the offense and do things he does. And Mike is a combo guard because he has the ability to do things off the ball, which is an incredible luxury to have, no doubt about it."
Their different skill sets make Missouri a unique team on offense and gives them flexibility in how to set up and transition on the court.
Pressey is known for his ability to get the the ball to open teammates, making passes that he sometimes has no business making. But sure enough, the ball often finds its way into the hands of Missouri's shooters.
Dixon often has a shoot-first mentality that was on full display Monday, when he scored 16 points in the first half of Missouri's win at Mizzou Arena.
The importance of the Pressey-Dixon combination isn't understated and doesn't go unnoticed in the Missouri locker room.
"It's very valuable. As you all know, Mike is capable of probably starting on any other team in the nation," Ratliffe said. "It's like instant offense — he's a scoring point guard, and Phil is a pass-first point guard, so it just gives us the best of both worlds with those two guys."
Dixon is considered one of the best bench players in the country, but he shrugs it off.
"I'm not really too worried about anything like that, I just want to win," Dixon said. "So, that's great and all, but I just attribute being good and being on a team like this to how many wins we get."
When Dixon showcases his scoring ability as he did Monday, people can overlook his counterpart in the Missouri offense. But Pressey quietly racked up 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in the win against Texas A&M.
While more than 15,000 fans at Mizzou Arena were in awe of Dixon's performance on Monday, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was wowed by both of Missouri's primary ball-handlers.
"I thought Phil Pressey was incredible," Kennedy said. "That was the big difference. He controlled the whole game. Then when you have a starter like Dixon — I consider him a starter — come in and do what he can do offensively, it's a great weapon to have off the bench."
And when Texas visited Mizzou Arena on Jan. 17, it was Pressey who dominated, scoring 18 points and collecting 10 assists without a single turnover.
Haith hopes Pressey's shooting performance is an indication of more to come rather than an added bonus to his passing skills.
Haith and his staff have been continually trying to get Pressey to take smarter, more rhythmic shots, but his ability to open up holes in defenses through his passing game is Pressey's biggest contribution thus far this season.
"Phil does so much for our team besides scoring," Haith said. "I don't think he's thinking shot when he catches it, that's the first thing. I think Flip is always thinking, 'Go play make.'"
Game to game, it's hard to know which one of Missouri's point guards will shine the most, but Haith is not indecisive in picking whom to play. He starts Pressey and usually puts Dixon in the game early in the first half. Often, both players are on the court at the same time.
While that gives the Tigers a disadvantage because of their lack of size, it also gives them an extra boost of quickness that can sometimes mean the difference between a breakaway opportunity for an easy layup and a turnover.
Missouri will need that speed to combat the physicality and size of No. 3 Baylor, which the Tigers are set to play Saturday in Waco, Texas. The Bears lost for the first time this season Monday at No. 7 Kansas