KANSAS CITY — The Missouri basketball team was picked to finish tied for fifth in the Big 12 Conference by the league’s head coaches. Kansas coach Bill Self might have been someone who helped the Tigers attain that spot.
“To me, Missouri is going to be the team that is kind of a surprise team of our league,” Self said at Big 12 media day on Wednesday.
MU coach Mike Anderson has most of his talent returning from squad that finished sixth in the conference last season. Kalen Grimes, who was dismissed from the team, is the only Tigers player who scored seven or more points per game last season who will not be returning this season.
“They know Mike’s system better,” Self said of MU’s players. “I like their personnel. They came on strong last year, I don’t see how they can keep from being better.”
The Tigers don’t feel they are a team that other teams are overlooking, but they know they have a lot of room to improve.
“I don’t know about sneaking,” Anderson said. “I think we’re going to be a team that hopefully improves and gets better each and every day.”
Anderson said he felt the Tigers did not do a good job of finishing off games last season, but hopes his team learned from that experience and brings that lesson into this season.
“Experience, to me, is your greatest teacher,” Anderson said. “I think that going through last year with this basketball team, it taught me a lot of things.”
Anderson’s players also feel that having experience in the Big 12 as well as a year under their coach will help them this season.
“I feel a lot more comfortable out there,” guard Matt Lawrence said. “When (Anderson) came here at first, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew he liked an up-tempo style and I didn’t know if that would fit my game very well. And then giving me a year under him, it makes me see that it makes my game even better. It shapes players and it really brings out the talents. I know what he wants, and I know what we can do.”
Lawrence said he felt that MU was a surprise team last year, noting that the Tigers were picked to finish last by the Big 12 coaches but wound up in sixth place. He said he isn’t sure if that classification fits this season, but he said MU will be an improved team.
“I think this year, with the hard work and having a year under our belt with Coach Anderson, we might be that team that finishes in the top five in the Big 12 and tries to make a run at the tournament,” Lawrence said.
The Tigers’ success depends on how much the players improve from last season and how they play in Anderson’s fast-paced style. Anderson has pointed to senior forward Marshall Brown as a player whohe wants to have an impact.
“I’m expecting more things out of Marshall Brown,” Anderson said. “This is his senior year, and I think the sense of urgency has to come on him. He’s been playing in the Big 12 for three years. So hopefully it can be a situation where he can get consistent and have one of those years where he can break out.”
Brown said he wants to have a productive senior season, and with the Tigers having five experienced seniors on the team, that they can have a big season.
“I feel like we can do a lot better than we are projected to do,” Brown said. “But that isn’t something we are really worried about. We are focused on one game at a time. We have a very tough schedule. The conference is a long way away. That’s what we are trying to get ready for right now.”