Senior Matt Lawrence, who enters his third season as a starter, is a 3-point specialist. His ability to knock down open shots is pivotal. Junior J.T. Tiller, who is more of a slasher, became a starter in late January. The Tigers are looking for Tiller to become a steady scoring threat. He scored a career-high 20 points in a 77-74 win over Kansas State.
One of the newcomers who will play – and possibly join the starting lineup – is Delaware transfer Zaire Taylor, a 6-4 guard. He has the long arms and lateral quickness to be a disruptive force on defense, making him an ideal fit for the full-court pressure and aggressive man-to-man that coach Mike Anderson used to turn UAB into a winner.
Freshman Miguel Paul, a three-star recruit, is another good fit for Anderson's style. A true point guard, Paul has great speed. There is hope that Paul's presence will lead to more transition baskets.
Freshmen Marcus Denmon and Kim English could work their way into the rotation. Denmon can play point or off the ball, while English has great size (6-5/200) for a shooting guard.
The return of seniors DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, who each flirted briefly with entering the NBA Draft, gives the Tigers one of the top frontcourts in the Big 12. Both are athletic big men who run the court well.
Carroll, who spent his first two years at Vanderbilt, proved to be one of the top transfers in the nation last season. Carroll averaged 13 points and a team-high 6.7 rpg for Mizzou.
He also was a weapon on defense, often being utilized as the point man in the Tigers' press.
Lyons was one of the Big 12's most improved players, raising his scoring average from 7.4 to 13.1. At times, Lyons – a 6-9, 240-pounder – was dominant. He scored 27 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a loss to Oklahoma State and followed that with a 22-point, 15-board performance in a loss to Baylor.
Junior college transfer Keith Ramsey (6-9, 210) gives the Tigers a third scoring threat. Ramsey, a left-hander, was the No. 11 junior college prospect in the 2008 class.
The first priority is to create fast-break opportunities, but when forced to slow it down the Tigers operate a traditional motion offense.
The Tigers, who were handicapped last season by a series of off-court problems, finally appear to be ready for Anderson's brand of ball. The roster has more athleticism and quickness. It also has a lot more bodies. Anderson will use a nine- or 10-man rotation, and the Tigers are going to turn up the pace. But that doesn't mean it will work instantly. With seven newcomers, including five freshmen, generating the right kind of chemistry will be difficult. Finding a reliable point guard is another major concern. More than likely, the Tigers are a year away from a breakthrough season. We think they will reach the NIT and show the kind of promise that will lead to an NCAA bid in 2009-10.
The Tigers employ an aggressive man-to-man defense with an emphasis on ball pressure. Getting deflections and creating steals is the main goal.
SHOES TO FILL
Guard Keon Lawrence. He chose to transfer closer to home and enrolled at Seton Hall. Lawrence provided a scoring punch, averaging 11.0 ppg.
MUST STEP UP
Matt Lawrence. His 3-point shooting dipped from 44.3 percent (81 of 183) in 2006-07 to 34.8 percent (72 of 207) last season. The Tigers need him to shoot around 40 percent for their offense to be at its best. He can help open up space on the inside for Lyons and Carroll.
Ramsey is joining a team with two proven big men, but he is too talented to leave on the bench. His addition means Carroll and Lyons can afford to get into foul trouble, which means they can be more aggressive on defense.
Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.