In advance of tonight's home game against Missouri, we invited Sam Snelling of Rock M Nation to answer a few questions we had about the matchup. Once you're done reading our preview, as well as theirs, come take a look at what he has to say about the Tigers' chances this evening in our version of Columbia.
GABA: 1. So I don't think anyone quite saw this Missouri team coming. We certainly know about growing pains in year one, but what exactly has gone wrong in Columbia West this year?
SS: Well, what hasn't gone wrong? Honestly I think we greatly overestimated the young talent on the roster and their ability to overcome a serious lack of experience on the roster. And even the experience is inexperienced, like Keanau Post who didn't play much last year as a junior, and has only really been playing basketball for 5 years. On top of that, injuries, suspensions, and a complete inability to score with any sort of reliability. It's all gone wrong.
I certainly thought before the season that this team could have been a .500 team in conference, but outside of some initial success at home, things have all gone south. I'm not sure Kim Anderson managed the team correctly in the preseason as there has been some turmoil ever since they opened with a pretty embarrassing loss to UMKC. I think most of us though they were improving, but I think the biggest turning point in the season was the loss at Auburn. They were better than Auburn, and played better, but just couldn't make enough plays down the stretch to win the game. And it's gotten ugly since then.
2. In that vein, how has that impacted the fan base's view of Kim Anderson? We know he's a favored son, but has anything about this season changed most people's minds about how well he'll ultimately do at Mizzou?
Depending on who you ask you'll find people that loved and hated the hire. I didn't love it, but I think he can win at Mizzou. For me, I don't think this season has changed my opinion but then I look at things in a different way than most. I can say that interest is WAY down, which isn't a good sign. The AD (Mike Alden) will resign by the end of August, so a new AD might not have the same patience with Anderson that Alden might have. I think Kim Anderson's plan was a longterm plan, not a short term fix, which is what we were dealing with under Frank Haith. I think significant growth next year is going to important for the fan base, as I don't think Mizzou can continue to take on the hit in attendance that they've had this year.
3. I know Mizzou has lost a ton of talent in the past few seasons, and never really replaced it. Who are the guys that Carolina fans should know about coming into the game?
A guy many may already be familiar with is Johnathan Williams III. JW3 is a sophomore forward and a former top 50 player. In fact, I think he was one spot ahead of Thornwell. Williams fit in well on the team last year because he didn't have to score, instead he just rebounded and got some garbage buckets. This year, he's the teams #1 option, and has faded a bit lately with that pressure as teams focus on him. The teams best player over the second half of the season is probably sophomore Wes Clark. Clark is a bit of a combo guard, former top 75 player who struggles off an on with his shot, but is one of the few guys who can consistently break down a defense and create his own shot. He's also shown off a great ability to pass the ball. He shares the bulk of time handling the ball with Keith Shamburger who is a nice player and a calming influence for the young team.
It will be interesting to see if Montaque Gill-Caesar and Namon Wright are eligible to return from suspension, as Coach Anderson has yet to clarify their situation since they were suspended for the last game. Both are the Tigers best 3-point threats.
4. What's your view of the SEC and its improvement this season? Where do you think, big picture, Mizzou fits in? For fun, where do you think Carolina will ultimately fit in? Can Frank Martin win here?
I'll start with Martin and SC. Yes I think he can win there. PJ Dozier was a huge recruiting coup for them, and I think he'll continue to add the parts he needs to ultimately be a top half of the SEC kind of team. I don't think they're far off now, still a bit young and, from what I've seen, have almost no inside guys who are worth a damn.
The improvement of the SEC has been steadier than I think a lot of people realize. For one, there hasn't been the kind of coaching turnover in the league that plagued it for the previous years as the decent happened, and I think this could get to be a 7-8-9 bid league. Obviously Kentucky is who they are, Florida will be there. Arkansas will be there now that Mike Anderson has that thing rolling a bit. I like what Mark Fox is doing at Georgia, and I think the recent hotstreak at Mississippi State might have saved Rick Ray there, which I believe to be a good thing for MSU and the league in general. I also think that eventually Bruce Pearl will have Auburn rocking. I'm very positive on the future of SEC basketball, because of these teams and coaches.
The question now is what about Mizzou? The next two years will tell us a lot. I don't think there's a huge talent gap with the Tigers and the rest of the league (UK excluded), what Mizzou needs is those young talented guys turn into mature talented guys. If roster turnover isn't a big deal this offseason, Mizzou keeps it sophomore and freshmen class together,
I think they can make noise next year. If they don't, well it could be a long road up, and one which I'm not sure the coach would survive considering a new AD will be coming in. I think he needs at least 3 years, and probably 4 before we really know what kind of impact Anderson can have on Mizzou.
5. How does the game go? Who wins, and why? And does it even matter?
I predict ugly. I predict mostly close. We've got two teams headed the wrong way, and without being too cliché it's probably going to come down to one team just wanting it more. I think Mizzou is in a pretty bad mental state, so all SC needs to have happen is for one or two possessions to go their way. If that happens at some point in the second half, and I predict it will, I think Mizzou won't really be able to punch back in the way they need. I think SC pulls this out, say 67-59.
And no. Other than it will secure SC as the second worst team to Mizzou's worst. Maybe one day soon these teams will play with something on the line, but not this year.