May 21, 2024

2016-2017 SEC basketball preview: Missouri Tigers

Missouri finished dead last in the SEC last season and are projected to finish last again. Can the Tigers prove the doubters wrong? Here is Mizzou’s 2016-2017 season preview.

Feb 13, 2016; Columbia, MO, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Devon Baulkman (34) pressures Missouri Tigers guard Wes Clark (15) during the first half of a game at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Timothy Tai-USA TODAY Sports

Just four years ago, Missouri was one of the best teams in the country. In the program’s final season in the Big 12, the Tigers posted a record of 30-4 and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They were then promptly stunned by No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the first round.

Since that infamous upset, Missouri has switched conferences and have steadily declined since arguably the best season in program history.

The Tigers finished last season at the bottom of the SEC barrel (10-21, 3-15 SEC). As a result, Missouri is projected by media gurus to finish 14th out of 14 teams in the conference this season.

Which isn’t surprising. Columbia has only seen its basketball team win a combined 19 games over the past two seasons. However, with an army of young players, brighter days may be ahead.

Strengths

It’s hard to pick a strength for this team considering how woeful they were last season in so many categories (more on that later). Having said that, this team is incredibly young, which might not seem like a positive on the surface, but only benefits the program’s future.

The Tigers aren’t winning many games this season. But what they’ll likely do, is develop the young talent they possess as the season progresses. Of the 15 student athletes on the roster, 11 are a sophomore or freshman. If the core of young players can stay together, Missouri may transform into a team worthy of a position in March Madness in a couple of seasons.

Weaknesses

Where to begin?

This team can’t shoot three-pointers, crash the boards and finished with more turnovers than assists last season. Not exactly a winning formula, especially against the stellar athletes of the SEC.

The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in most categories. No team shot a lower percentage from beyond the arc (29.3 percent) and they finished 12th in both rebounding and assists.

Expect more of the same in 2016-2017.

Players to watch

F Kevin Puryear, Soph. — Missouri returns its leading scorer from last season in Puryear (11.5 points per game). The sophomore was one of the few players for the Tigers last season who took a decent amount of shots and still managed to shoot a high percentage, finishing the season shooting nearly 47 percent from the floor.

G Terrence Phillips, Soph. — Phillips led the team in assists last season (3.5 assists per game), but with Wes Clark and Namon Wright gone, Phillips now faces a larger scoring role. It might be too tall a task for the five-foot-eleven guard, as he finished last season only shooting 38 percent.

F Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith, Fr. — Who knows how much significant playing time Nikko and Smith will get. However, given the rebounding issues Missouri had last season, these two six-foot-ten bodies might find their way to the court sooner rather than later. The Tigers have players with the potential to score a lot of points. What they lack is a true inside presence that can keep the battle of the boards close. Nikko and Smith potentially provide that safety net around the rim.

Matchups to watch

Jan. 4 vs LSU — Now that the excitement of the Ben Simmons era is over in Baton Rouge, LSU isn’t as formidable as they were last season. Selecting matchups with Xavier or Arizona is pointless for Missouri because they will not stand a chance against either one of those teams. However, if they can compete with SEC squads who are nearly as inept as they are —especially in the conference home opener— then that’s a positive sign for the fans in Columbia.

Feb. 18 at Tennessee — Missouri was predicted to finish last in the SEC. The team ahead of them? Tennessee. With last place potentially on the line, the Tigers and Vols matchup could become the most pointless game with standing implications of all time.

March 4 at Auburn — Missouri’s final regular season game is against another SEC cellar dweller. At this point in the season, both programs will likely be fighting to avoid another 20-loss season on their resumés. Similar to the previously listed matchups, this game is all about which programs in the SEC are experiencing the most growth. Missouri can do themselves a ton of favors if they find a way to win all three of these games. Missouri also plays Auburn on Jan. 10 in Columbia.

Prediction

The Tigers are the worst team in the SEC. They’re extremely young with question marks across the board. There’s reason for optimism, but the media got it right on this one.

Missouri is finishing 14th.

Edited by Dalton King 

Featured image by Timothy Tai (USA TODAY Sports), courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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