Typically, when we write about a college basketball team being “in transition,” we are referring to the act of converting defensive stops into offensive scoring opportunities, generally at high speed. This summer, the Missouri Tigers embody an entirely different meaning of the well-worn term. Their current transition is slow and multi-faceted; they’ll enter the SEC on a wave of conference realignment, and they’ll do so with a number of new players looking to live up to the standard set by Frank Haith’s juggernaut from last season.
That’s where the overseas summer trip comes in. Missouri’s three-game ramble through Europe is underway right now, and it’s a perfect opportunity to push the reset button before all of these changes become permanent and the games start to count.
Adding a further layer of complexity to the transition motif is the influx of transfers. Alex Oriakhi, formerly of UConn, is probably the most well-known of Haith’s new guys, but the Tigers will also lean on Keion Bell, a point guard who started his career at Pepperdine, and Earnest Ross, a Tiger of a different stripe from Auburn.
With experienced hands Phil Pressey and Laurence Bowers still recovering from injuries suffered last season, the new guys got plenty of PT in an opening win over a club team from the Netherlands. Bell claimed a lion’s share of Pressey’s point guard minutes, and performed well, scoring 17 points to go with four assists and five boards. Ross matched Bell’s scoring output, and snagged eight rebounds for good measure. Oriakhi was Oriakhi, with a decidedly un-flashy six points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
The DI transfers didn’t have all the fun, though. Haith had to be pleased that one of his lesser-known JuCo acquisitions played his heart out, as well.
The most impressive stat line might have belonged to forward Tony Criswell, a transfer from Independence Community College, who scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in 22 minutes.
“I thought Tony did the things tonight that he has been doing in practice,” Haith said. “He was active, aggressive and shot the ball with confidence. He did the same things we are going to need from him during the regular season.”
It’ll be interesting to see what Haith does under heavy expectations. His hiring was roundly mocked by detractors who, somewhat fairly, didn’t see much to brag about in Haith’s record at Miami. He made an instant impression at Mizzou, guiding an undersized team to the Big 12 tourney title. First-round loss to Norfolk State aside, fans in Columbia are justifiably excited for their debut turn in the SEC, and this early plumbing of the depth chart is heartening.