COLUMBIA — When former Missouri basketball coach Mike Anderson packed his bags for Arkansas last spring, many fans feared that the Tigers wouldn't find success this season.
When senior forward Laurence Bowers suffered a season-ending knee injury in October before even playing a game, even more fans lowered their expectations for the Tigers this season.
No. 6 Baylor (21-3, 8-3)
at No. 4 Missouri (22-2, 9-2)
WHEN: 12:30 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR 1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ 96.7 FM
TV: KMIZ/Channel 17
More than halfway through this season, the Tigers have exceeded almost everyone's expectations, including their coach Frank Haith.
The Tigers (22-2, 9-2) have impressed people around the country with selfless basketball — always helping each other on defense and making extra passes on offense to create open shots.
Bowers thinks the offseason issues are a big part of why the Tigers have exceptional team chemistry this season.
"I think going through a lot of adversity really has helped this team," Bowers said. "With the departure of coach Anderson, and me going down, I think they just got together and said, 'We're not gonna let this affect us. We're gonna prove that we're still a very good basketball team.'"
And so far, they have. The Tigers are ranked in the top five for the fourth straight week and are tied with Kansas for first in the Big 12 heading into a game against No. 6 Baylor (21-3, 8-3) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
"Chemistry is so important to the success of a ball club," Haith said. "This team does have a high level of chemistry. They like each other, and I think they've liked each other in the past. These guys really understand how to work together on the court, and that's what's been impressive."
All seven of Missouri's active scholarship players are playing at least their second season at Missouri, and three are playing their fourth season.
"We trust each other," senior Steve Moore said. "Most of us have been around a long time. We're just used to each other and trust each other. Coach Haith harps on about sharing the ball and trusting our teammates and stuff like that and we buy into it."
Moore, Kim English and Marcus Denmon are the team's fourth-year seniors. Bowers also came to Missouri with them. While unable to play, he has sat on the bench all season dressed in a shirt and tie.
"He's a valuable guy, even without playing a game this year," Haith said. "His support to his teammates, his encouragement, how he communicates with them on the road, how he works the officials, he's just a valuable guy. He really is."
During games, Bowers jumps off the bench to celebrate big plays and get on referees for bad calls with so much enthusiasm it looks as though he'll re-injure his leg.
He said that he sometimes points things out to teammates during timeouts, especially to Moore and forward Ricardo Ratliffe.
"I try to prepare like I'm playing," Bowers said. "I get to see the game from another perspective. Anything I can do to help the team, I do that. "
Haith said Bowers also shows up at workouts for the team's four inactive transfers when the rest of the team has off days. Assuming he makes a full recovery, Bowers will to play with the transfers next season, something he's excited about.
The transfers often play against the active players during practices, and Haith said that the practices get competitive.
"For (the transfers), there's no games, so the practices are what's important to them," Haith said. "They don't have an off day, so they get after it pretty good."
Bowers thinks that next year's team will have more talent and depth, but he knows they won't find as much success as this year's team unless they also have strong chemistry.
"Talented teams that don't have chemistry don't win big," English said. "I remember when UConn had Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Denham Brown, Rashad Anderson in 2006. They lost to George Mason in the Elite Eight in D.C. Worlds of talent, five NBA draft picks that year and they didn't win. Chemistry is sometimes the most important thing. Hard work and chemistry beats talent any day if that talent doesn't work hard."