COLUMBIA — Although the Missouri men's basketball team is full of seniors, it's led on the court by a sophomore.
When the Tigers come out of the tunnel before games or after halftime, the team is always led by point guard Phil Pressey, who comes out dribbling, with junior Michael Dixon right behind him.
No. 2 seed Missouri (30-4)
vs. No. 15 seed Norfolk State (25-9)
WHEN: 3:40 p.m. Friday
WHERE: CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM
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Pressey's teammates call him the "floor-general" because of the way he directs the Tigers' high-scoring offense.
He scores an average of 10 points per game for Missouri, which ranks eighth in the country with an average of 80.3 points per game.
"That starts with Phil up top," senior Kim English said.
Pressey's biggest contribution to the Tigers' offense this season has been his passing. He has 215 assists, shattering the previous school record of 179 set by Anthony Peeler during the 1989-90 season.
Pressey routinely pleases fans with highlight-reel passes. His astounding ability to make no-look or between-the-legs passes often makes it seem as if he has eyes in the back of his head.
He set the Mizzou Arena crowd into a frenzy with a pass to Ricardo Ratliffe against Binghamton in November. Pressey chased after a ball that he poked away from a Binghamton guard, grabbed it just before it went out of bounds and flipped it backwards over his head to Ratliffe who was striding toward the basket. Ratliffe punctuated the play with a two-handed dunk.
Pressey is also known for defense, using his speed and quick hands to bother opposing guards. He has 73 steals this season, near the school record for the most in a single season. Lynn Hardy had 76 in the 1986-87 season and 74 in the 1985-86 season.
He flustered Oklahoma State freshman Christien Sager on Thursday in the Big 12 tournament by twice jumping in front of passes coming towards Sager, taking the ball and racing towards the opposite basket. Sager fell down as Pressey stole the ball the second time, then slammed his hand on the ground in frustration.
On Saturday, Pressey was named to the Big 12 Conference all-tournament team after Missouri won the title. He had a career-high 23 points against Texas in the semifinals on Friday.
"I usually try to get a feel for the game to see how teams are going to play me," Pressey said. "Some teams tend to play me for the pass, and some teams just let me shoot."
Texas let him shoot and paid for it. Pressey made five 3-pointers in that game.
"I think people would see why it's hard to double team him, because he did such a terrific job seeing the floor," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I think Missouri does as good a job as any team I've seen in a long time in terms of sharing the ball, moving the ball."
Like English said, that starts with Pressey. No matter how the game is going, Pressey remains even-keeled, wearing the same focused look on his face. Off the court, he is often grinning, whether he is chatting with his teammates or answering questions from reporters.
On Friday, Pressey will continue his record-breaking season in the NCAA Tournament, when No. 2 seed Missouri faces No. 15 seed Norfolk State in Omaha, Neb. If the Tigers win that game, they will advance to face either No. 7 seed Florida or No. 10 seed Virginia.
Pressey isn't thinking about the records, though.
"My dad (former NBA player Paul Pressey) always told me, when you play the game the right way, all that will take care of itself."