The Missouri men’s basketball team is run more like a hockey team. Coach Mike Anderson boasts ten players with starting potential, creating two interchangeable lines of attack for the Tigers.
That depth has proven itself as Missouri has consistently won in bench scoring and features ten Tigers who play at least ten minutes per game. Of those, five of them play 20 minutes per game. Within that core crew, surrounded by four junior stars, you’ll find one hard-nosed underclassman who keeps it all running smoothly.
Sophomore guard Michael Dixon is a youngster on a team of game-tested upperclassmen. Shooting guard and leading scorer Marcus Denmon, forward and paint presence Ricardo Ratliffe and the lanky Laurence Bowers are all juniors. Throw in the 2009-10 leading scorer junior guard Kim English and senior forward Justin Safford and you have a hoop squad that brings plenty of experience to the floor.
“We try to take pride in that, but whoever we play, we feel like we have a pretty deep team, and we use that to our advantage,” English said.
Dixon is a year behind in floor time, but he is gaining fast. As a freshman, he earned eight starts and solid minutes after establishing himself as a passer and three-point shooter. This year, he has nearly doubled that number of starts and has filled the role he aimed for going into the season.
Back in October, the scrappy point guard explained his duties for the upcoming season.
“My job as a point guard (is) to get everybody involved and get people the ball in the right situations and the right times,” Dixon said. “Just taking what the defense gives me offensively as far as knocking down open shots and getting to the basket when the opportunity presents itself.”
Twenty games in, it’s safe to say that he’s lived up to those expectations. Dixon leads all Tigers with 4.6 assists per game and is second in steals at just over two per game. He also leads the team in free throw percentage for the second year straight at 83 percent.
As for those knocking down those open shots, the guard has emerged as a threat from distance and is third in three-point shooting for Missouri.
In Missouri's blowout win over Iowa State on Saturday, Dixon went 3-for-6 from distance when everyone thought the Cyclones would be the ones hitting all the three’s. His 15 points led the Tigers to their 87-54 victory. At 10.9 points per game, the sophomore is fourth in scoring for Missouri behind Denmon, Ratliffe and Bowers.
Anderson was impressed with the performance by his youngest starter.
“I think Mike was the best he’s played all year,” Anderson said. “I thought he was zoned in defensively and offensively and sharing the basketball. I thought he was the barometer in the first half and ignited a lot of things for our basketball team.”
Dixon also posted a game-high eight rebounds in the win. The passing leader shares time in the backcourt with fellow underclassmen and freshman guard Phil Pressey. Dixon competes with Pressey who brings similar weapons to the floor with his court vision and 3-point shooting.
Dixon and the Tigers travel to Austin this weekend to play Texas. The Longhorns come off a huge upset of then-No.2 Kansas at home last weekend. Tipoff is scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday.