1What is the key to Missouri’s season?
Getting off to a good start is vital for the Tigers. Last year, they stumbled early, going 6-5 against nonconference opponents. Despite going 9-7 in the Big 12 Conference, disappointing losses to Austin Peay, Southern Methodist and University of Louisiana-Lafayette early in the year played a big part in keeping the Tigers out of the NCAA Tournament. With the grueling Big 12 schedule looming in the second half of the season, Missouri must get off to a better start in its first 11 games.
2Will Missouri survive without Kerensa Barr?
Thanks to LaToya Bond, life will go on. Filling Barr’s shoes, though, is no easy task. Barr ran the point for the past three years and holds the Missouri assist (489) and free-throw percentage (.812) records. Her floor leadership will also be greatly missed. Bond, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, might not be as vocal as Barr, but her quickness, shooting and ability to lead the fast break will briang a more athletic approach to this year’s team. Bond also can be counted on going inside to grab rebounds from bigger players. After a year of learning from Barr, it seems that Bond is more than ready to step into her role.
3What is the Tigers’ biggest strength?
It might not sound glamorous, but Missouri is a great free-throw shooting team. Last season, the Tigers made 75.4 percent of their free throws, the highest percentage in the Big 12. Six of Missouri’s eight returnees shot better than 65 percent from the free-throw line last year, and expect the Tigers to make opponents pay for fouls late in the game.
4What is Missouri’s biggest weakness?
Likely defense. The Tigers were ninth in the Big 12 defensively last season, allowing 64.1 points per game. Despite an experienced starting lineup, the Tigers reserves are relatively inexperienced, and the young players’ defense remains questionable. Missouri did not look overly impressive defensively in its two exhibition games this year, so if Missouri hopes to have success, it will likely need to score a lot.
5Will the Tigers make it a record-tying fifth straight postseason appearance?
Most likely. With four seniors in the starting lineup, Missouri is not short on experience and leadership. Off the bench, the Tigers have what coach Cindy Stein calls inexperienced talent, but as the season wears on, expect this team to come together. If it gets off to a better start than in 2002-03, expect the Tigers to return to the NCAA Tournament in March.
6Who will be MIssouri's MVP?
Evan Unrau. She is undoubtedly the Tigers’ go-to player. She led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 16 points and 7.7 rebounds. Away from the ball, she is just as valuable because her talent will attract the opponent’s best defender and at times a double team, opening opportunities for her teammates. Her defense and leadership help make her the most well-rounded player on the team.
7Can Unrau be the Big 12 Player of the Year?
Yes. Unrau is recognized as one of the top players in the Big 12 and last year, was an All-Conference selection.
She will face stiff competition from Kansas State’s Nicole Ohlde and Texas’ Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber, but if Missouri exceeds expectations, Unrau will likely reap the benefits.
8What newcomer will make the biggest impact?
Freshman Carlynn Savant can make shots from the perimeter and might be an important scorer for Missouri this season, but her defense is suspect. Freshman point guard Blair Hardiek is continuing to learn how to run the point, but when she becomes comfortable with the position, expect her to be a key member of the bench.
9Which Tiger will have the quietest impact?
Tracy Lozier, a senior shooting guard, might not lead the team in any major statistical category this season, but her consistent play will make her presence felt every game.
10Can Lozier become the Missouri all-time 3-point leader?
Yes. Lozier’s 94 3-point field goals is sixth on the Tigers’ list. After making 60 3-pointers last season, Lozier should have no problem closing the gap of 29 that separates her from Julie Helm at the top of the list.
11Will Stein get her 150th win?
Yes, but she had better do it sooner than later. With a 149-91 record, if she doesn’t reach the milestone by December, the Tigers are in big trouble. On the other hand, getting to win No. 175 this season will be tougher.
12Will Stein be back next season?
It is tough to say. Stein has seen measured success during her first five seasons at Missouri. The biggest black cloud hovering over Stein is the fact that 19 players have left the program before graduation during her tenure and not always on the greatest terms. On the court, Stein has compiled an 84-66 record since coming to Missouri in 1998. She has also guided the Tigers to four consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 1983-86, but since reaching the Sweet 16 in 2001, Missouri has not returned to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Tigers played in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament the past two years. To keep her job, Stein needs to win. If Missouri can make it to the postseason again this year, it would be hard to push such a successful coach out the door. At the same time, Stein might receive an outside offer she can’t refuse.
13How big is the home-court advantage at Hearnes Center?
Huge. The Tigers are 271–90 (.717) at home and posted a 12–3 record at Hearnes Center last season. With the new arena under construction, the Tigers won’t want to go out quietly.
14Is this team capable of scoring 100 points in a game?
If it does, expect a victory. Missouri is 32-1 when scoring 100 points or more.
15What name will give public address announcers the hardest time to pronounce?
Without a doubt, Christelle N’Garsnet will give announcers fits this year. N’Garsanet (pronounced ‘en-GAR-suh-nay’) is a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Abidjan, Ivory Coast. She transferred to Missouri this year from Illinois Central College, and the Tigers hope her play in the post is as tough as the pronunciation of her name.
16Who is Missouri’s biggest unknown player?
Kacey McFarland, a 6-3 freshman from Neosho walked on to the team last week. Who knows, she might end up being the one final piece of the puzzle the Tigers need.
17Will Stretch James continue to blossom into one of the top post players in the Big 12?
Yes. James improved her shooting touch around the basket during the offseason, and Stein says James is in better shape than ever. James blocked a team-high 45 shots last year.
18Who will win the Big 12?
Competition will be tough, but expect Kansas State to be on top of the heap at the end of the year. With Ohlde leading, the Wildcats return all starters to a team that went 29-5 last season. Don’t count out perennial powerhouse Texas Tech or Texas, the defending Big 12 champion and a national semifinalist last year.
19Where will Missouri finish in the Big 12?
Since the inception of the conference in 1997, the Tigers have not cracked the top four. With the ultra-competitive nature of the Big 12, don’t expect that to change this year. Missouri will likely finish sixth, behind Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech, Colorado and Oklahoma.
20Most important, how will the Tigers fare against Kansas this year?
Missouri is on a seven-game winning streak against the Jayhawks. Expect the Tigers dominance to continue for a fourth straight season. Anything less than a season sweep would be a surprise.