If you would have told him his team would be 11-2 entering the conference season, Missouri men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson would have been more than pleased.
“Write the check, man,” Anderson said. “I’ll take that.”
But according to Anderson, the team is no longer 11-2. With Big 12 Conference play starting Saturday against Iowa State, Anderson is approaching the game as if it were a season-opener, not just the conference-opener.
“We’re 0-0 in conference play,” Anderson said. “It’s like a new slate. So right now everybody is 0-0.”
Missouri’s coach used the first 13 games of the nonconference schedule as a team progression chart. Even more than the wins and losses, Anderson says the important thing in is use the opening games to try to get better for conference season.
“I think you want to improve,” Anderson said. “...I think our guys, they’re starting to pick it up and what better time to pick it up than as conference play starts.”
Anderson highlighted improvements in the team’s rebounding efforts and free-throw shooting statistics against Mississippi State on Tuesday. After a lackluster performance in the rebounding category against Illinois two games before, Missouri outrebounded Rick Stansbury’s Bulldogs by a margin of 10.
But that’s only one game. Because of the team’s lack of size, rebounding has been a main concern for the Tigers all season, especially in their two losses. If they’re going to have a successful conference season, they’re going to have to do it consistently, both at home and on the road.
“If you want to have a chance in conference play to do well, you have to take care at home,” Anderson said. “And you have to go on the road and steal some games. So that will be our mind-set.”
Stealing games on the road has been a struggle for Missouri over the past two years, to put it kindly. Before this season began, the Tigers had won only two games away from Mizzou Arena in two years, and they are 0-2 this season in away games. Missouri lost games at Purdue and then in St. Louis to Illinois.
Freshman Keon Lawrence, however, is just as excited at the chance to play away games in the Big 12 Conference as he is home games.
“I’m ready for conference season to begin,” Lawrence said. “I’m excited to go to all the Big 12 arenas and play. This is what I came here to do.”
Anderson said he hopes Missouri will have the same home-court advantage as other teams in the Big 12, starting with Saturday against the Cyclones at Mizzou Arena.
“We need a great atmosphere,” Anderson said. “Because I think we’re playing some good basketball.”
SURGERY FOR CARROLL: Junior DeMarre Carroll, who is sitting out the season after transferring from Vanderbilt, had surgery Tuesday after he cracked a bone in his pinky finger. Carroll had been practicing with team before the injury occurred.
“They inserted some screws in there,” Anderson said. “It looks like he’s going to be out for awhile. And that’s a shame because he really helps us in practice.”