COLUMBIA — Coach Mike Anderson’s message was clear when he issued his opening statement at the MU men’s basketball team’s media day on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena: Defense will be the key to the Tigers improving on last season’s 18-12 record.
Last season, the Tigers allowed 72 points per game while scoring 77. In Big 12 Conference play, the Tigers scored 74 points per game and allowed 74.
“We had no problem scoring,” Anderson said of last season. “But you’re not going to win many games when you are scoring 74 and the other team is scoring 74. From that standpoint, those are the things we’ve got to address.”
Anderson pointed to defensive rebounding as an area that needed improvement.
“You cannot beat teams if they annihilate you on the glass,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the physical ability is there for the Tigers to be a good defensive team, but the players must adopt a defensive mentality and pay more attention to detail on the defensive end of the court.
DeMarre Carroll, who had to sit out last season as a transfer from Vanderbilt, is someone who players and coaches are looking at to help the Tigerson the boards.
“DeMarre’s a great rebounder,” forward Leo Lyons said. “I plan on following him and hopefully that brings the rebounding up... When he sticks his nose in there, we all got to rebound with him.”
This defensive emphasis is something Anderson has been preaching since last season. Guard J.T. Tiller calls it Anderson’s motto. Tiller also said Anderson has been working at changing the Tigers’ mind-set
“Coach instilled in us that we should expect to win,” Tiller said. “We shouldn’t just settle for having a winning season, we should want to go all the way.”
Aggressiveness on the defensive end of the court will help achieve Anderson’s goals, but the players must play under control to avoid fouling, which was another area where the coach was displeased with his squad last season.
The Tigers’ foul troubles allowed opponents to shoot 126 more free throws than they did last season. Of those 126, 89 were converted. Anderson viewed these 89 free throws as points the Tigers gave away.
“That’s where the mental aspect comes in,” Tiller said. “That’s what coach really stresses. What aspects you need, when to speed up, when to slow down, when to be aggressive and when to back off.”
Anderson gauged that the team was doing about 60 percent of what he wanted them to do last year, and he thinks that if they can get into the 80 percent range on his grading scale, Missouri should be able to compete for postseason play.
“Hopefully we’ll be in the hunt for something,” Anderson said. He said he doesn’t enjoy sitting around in March watching other teams compete.
In order to achieve that goal, Anderson jacked up the intensity in the weight room. Lyons said he added about 60 pounds to his bench press this offseason. The Tigers hope that added strength throughout the team will help get them to their goal of playing tougher defense.
“We’ll see if we can translate that,” Anderson said. “It’s just like doing a whole lot of drills. You can do all kinds of drills, but sometimes they don’t make sense with what you do on the floor.”
He also feels the added strength could help his team’s confidence when faced with a physical challenge like boxing out to get a key stop during a game.
“Mentally, if you think you’re strong, you’re going to go out there and perform,” Anderson said.
Open Tryouts: The Tigers will be holding open tryouts for walk-on spots at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Mizzou Arena.