For his first year to be a success, coach Mike Anderson will have to find the answers to many questions. Here are five of the most crucial questions for Anderson to ponder before Missouri hosts North Carolina A&T on Nov. 10 to start the season.
WILL ANDERSON’S STYLE WORK IN THE BIG 12?
At Alabama-Birmingham, Anderson’s full-court, pressing defense led him to an 89-41 record in his tenure as coach. That style, which enabled the Blazers to record the third-most steals in the nation last season, isn’t used by any other Big 12 school. But whether that actually gives Missouri an advantage in the Big 12 remains to be seen.
“He brings that system into this conference,” forward Darryl Butterfield said. “That brings a major change into this conference. I don’t think the Big 12 has seen this system. I think we’ll surprise a lot of teams.”
But the surprise factor will only go so far. Instead, Missouri’s success may come down to how it executes its system. The Big 12, one of the premier conferences in college basketball, features some of the nation’s best coaches. Coaches such as Kansas’ Bill Self, Texas’ Rick Barnes and Texas Tech’s Bob Knight will undoubtedly be prepared for Missouri’s style of play.
“We all know that the Big 12 is no joke. It’s a tremendous league,” Anderson said. “The process has started, and I cannot wait to get on the floor to actually teach. It is getting all of our guys on same page, and that’s going to be the challenge.”
WILL MISSOURI WIN BACK ITS FANS?
In his first four years as coach, Quin Snyder took Missouri to the NCAA Tournament. In 2002, Missouri came within one win of reaching its first Final Four. In 2003, the Tigers took Dwyane Wade and eventual regional champion Marquette to overtime before falling in the second round of the tournament.
From there, however, seemingly little has gone right both on and off the court.
Off-court distractions and poor on-court performances have left Missouri fans either angry or apathetic, or both, toward the program. With fans already frustrated by only NIT appearances in 2004 and 2005, a 12-16 record last season left Mizzou Arena half-empty on many occasions.
“What happened in the past, I can’t speak because I wasn’t here. This is a new era,” Anderson said. “It’s like anything else — experience is your greatest teacher. Sometimes you want to remember what it felt like and use it to your advantage. That’s history. That’s over. Sometimes change is good.”
Winning back the fans is something Anderson tried to do this summer while traveling around the state. He also recognizes how important the fans are in making Mizzou Arena a tough place for visitors to play.
“I want this place to be a pit,” Anderson said, “I can’t say it enough. Our student body is going to be very, very important. This atmosphere would take these guys to another level.”
WHO WILL BECOME THE LEADERS OF THE TEAM?
After losing seniors Jimmy McKinney and Kevin Young, plus leading scorer Thomas Gardner, the Tigers are looking for new leaders. Three of the obvious choices would be guard Jason Horton, forward Marshall Brown and center Kalen Grimes. Those three, all juniors, have been in the Missouri program for three years.
“I think it’s kind of fallen on mine and Jason’s shoulders,” Brown said. “Considering the fact we’ve been here the longest, we’ve expected to be in that role and embraced it and tried to lead by example.”
Anderson said he hasn’t specifically asked anyone to become the leader of the team. Instead, he will let a leader emerge naturally.
“I think that’s going to be something that’s got to take place on this team,” Anderson said. “I think as we start practicing, you’ll see that. Some guys will lead by example, some will be doing it with their voices.
“I’m anxious to see how that goes. Right now they’re all saying, ‘I’m the leader.’”
HOW WILL ANDERSON USE HORTON AND STEFHON HANNAH?
Last season, Horton started 19 of Missouri’s 28 games at point guard and led the team in assists with 4.5 per game. Meanwhile, newcomer Stefhon Hannah was a Second Team National Junior College Athletics Association All-America selection at point guard after averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 steals per game.
Anderson may not have to choose which one to start. Horton said he’d be comfortable playing along side Hannah, possibly at the two-guard, traditionally known as shooting guard.
“You never know, we might end with up me and another point guard starting,” Horton said. “In this system, there’s really no two-guard. With me and Stefhon on the floor, there’s no two-guard. It’s just two lead guards and (Anderson) really believes positions don’t mean anything,”
Hannah said he just wants to play, regardless of the position.
“It’s a lot of competition with different styles of play,” Hannah said. “I’m more of an attacker. If he puts me at the two, I’ll do my job. If he puts me at the one (point guard), I’ll do my job.”
WHEN WILL THE PLAYERS BE IN GAME SHAPE?
In order to properly execute Anderson’s up-tempo system, the players will need to be in the proper condition. But, getting in the shape Anderson needs will not be easy.
“If you come to the practices early on, it may be 25 minutes of hell,” Anderson said, implying that getting ready for a full game will take time. “Even as we speak right now, they are paying the ultimate price, and hopefully there’s going to be some reward at the end of it. But again, they have no choice in trying to buy into (the system).”
The players have been participating in 30-minute conditioning workouts four times a week, giving them a hint of what to expect. Grimes, while admitting he was nervous about going through Anderson’s preparation, is ready for his coach’s plan.
“He’s got some more stuff up his sleeve,” Grimes said. “I can’t wait to see what that is.”