Oriakhi’s value to Missouri should not be understated

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On Friday evening, Alex Oriakhi, the nation’s most sought-after transfer, officially made his commitment to play his final season at Missouri.

And while the former UConn big man let the decision-making process play itself out, it turns out that Missouri was the desired destination all along.

“This is where I wanted to go from the beginning,” Oriakhi told the Kansas City Star. “It was just a matter of me visiting. Why should I delay it when my heart was telling me to commit?” Oriakhi said. “To be honest, I wanted to get it over with so I could relax and focus on getting better.”

The importance of Oriakhi’s commitment cannot be overstated, so much so that I think the only thing holding the Tigers back from contending for an SEC title will be whether or not their plethora of transfers are able to come together.

Missouri has loads of talent on their roster. It starts with the return of the Tiger’s dynamic back court of Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon, and while the loss of Kim English and Marcus Denmon will hurt, adding Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell and Oregon transfer Jabari Brown (at the end of the fall semester) will certainly make their graduation easier to endure and will provide an additional scoring pop. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross should be able to contribute at the small forward spot where he will lineup alongside the now-healthy Laurence Bowers, a guy that was arguably the best player on Missouri’s 2010-2011 team.

That’s a solid core before you include the good-but-not-great, seven-man recruiting class Haith has brought in.

But what that group was missing was a big man in the middle, which is precisely the role that Oriakhi will fill.

Oriakhi got lost in the shuffle at UConn this past season. His minutes were wiped away by the late-August addition of Andre Drummond, and between his inconsistent playing time, his deteriorating relationship with head coach Jim Calhoun and the issues that the Huskies dealt with as a unit all season long, Oriakhi saw his minutes and his production dwindle as the season went on. What people tend to forget, however, is that Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 boards for UConn’s 2011 National Title team, providing an invaluable presence in the paint as a shot blocker and a rebounder.

That is precisely what he will be asked to do for the Tigers next season.

Oriakhi is a similar player to Ricardo Ratliffe. Both are big, both are strong, both can rebound and both take up a lot of space in the paint. But where Ratliffe was probably a little more refined on the offense end of the floor, Oriakhi is a much better defender and shotblocker. Oriakhi’s mediocre back-to-the-basket game won’t be much of a factor, either, as he’ll feast off of the wide-open dunks he gets playing with Phil Pressey.

With four transfers joining the three returning members of the Missouri rotation, Haith is going to have his work cut out for him getting his team to buy into his system. But that was something he had to do this year, as he took over a senior-laden team that struggled with selfishness at the end of the 2011 season.

Haith did a masterful job coaching up the Tigers last season, and next year will likely require much of the same.

But if he can pull it off, Missouri will again spend much of the season in the top ten.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.