October 1, 2009

Tiger trio ready for the limelight

Pre-season expectations are almost always based on what a team is bringing back. For the Missouri Tigers, those expectations will likely be formed based on what they lost from last year's team that won 31 games, won the Big XII Championship and came just a few points short of the first Final Four in school history.

Gone are Missouri's three leading scorers. Kimmie English started 13 games and showed plenty of offensive potential down the stretch. Most consider him ready to step into the void left by Matt Lawrence. The replacements for forwards Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll will likely draw many more questions.

To understand just how key Carroll and Lyons were to last year's run, take a look at these numbers: Carroll, a first-team all-Big 12 pick, and Lyons combined for 37.7% of Missouri's shots last year, 36.24% of the team's free throw attempts and 38.2% of the scoring. At least one of the two was Missouri's leading scorer in 30 of 39 games and its leading rebounder in 37 of 39.

"DeMarre and Leo got big shoes to fill scoring-wise and rebounding," said sophomore Laurence Bowers.

Along with senior Keith Ramsey, the onus will fall on junior Justin Safford and Bowers to fill that void. The trio combined for 10.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 30 minutes a game last season.

"Us three together," Bowers said, "I don't see why there's a reason really we can't step in for (Carroll and Lyons)."

The major reason is simple opportunity.

"We have to," Ramsey said. "We're going to approach everything the same as we did last year, but we're going to be out there a little bit more."

All three showed flashes of being ready to step into the limelight last season. Ramsey led the Tigers in blocked shots, despite averaging just 13.7 minutes per game. Safford made 10 of his last 13 three-point attempts and posted three of his five highest-scoring games in Missouri's final eight contests. Bowers averaged the most rebounds per minute of any Tiger and scored more points per minute on the court than anyone outside of Carroll and Lyons.

"The little time I did play last year I felt like I was efficient," Bowers said. "Getting a little bit more playing time, I can increase my production and show coach I'm ready."

Along with sophomore Steve Moore, who Ramsey called the most improved big man on the team, this trio's ability to step into more prominent roles will be a key to Missouri attempting to follow up one of the most successful seasons in school history.

"There were some guys sitting there waiting their time, waiting to step up and contribute. I think this year, that will offer those guys the opportunity to do that," Safford said. "You do the things you've got to do, whether it's hustle, defense, get your minutes whether you're a freshman or a senior."

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