Missouri men’s basketball coach Frank Haith said Friday that practices with his No. 15 Tigers have become increasingly competitive and physical, characteristics that make him cringe when someone hits the floor in the paint or dives after a loose ball.
But as the team’s first exhibition game approaches, senior forward Alex Oriakhi has no problem with it.
“I feel like by competing against each other, we’re getting each other better,” he said. “And if we’re beating each other up in practice, it’s going to be easy to do it to the opponent when the games come.”
The Tigers’ first exhibition match comes Monday at Mizzou Arena against Northwest Missouri State. It will be the team’s first action in front of a crowd since a laid-back scrimmage at Mizzou Madness, the program’s festive debut in front of more than 6,000 fans Oct. 12 on MU’s home court.
“We’re excited about Monday and getting the chance to play somebody else. We’ve been at it for a while, it seems like,” Haith said, citing two weeks of formal practice and new NCAA rules allowing coaches to practice with their teams for eight hours a week at the end of the summer. “Now we get a chance to lace them up against another team, and we’re excited about that.”
Missouri will be without the services of guards Michael Dixon and Dominique Bull for the game and possibly longer. Both were suspended for a violation of team rules.
Haith announced the suspensions Friday at the team’s weekly media session. Dixon, a senior, had recently returned to the team after a brief leave to focus on academics. Former coach Mike Anderson suspended him once before in December 2010. This is the first disciplinary action taken against Bull, a freshman. Both have been practicing with the team while serving their suspensions, Haith said.
“I want for this to be a really good personal growth time for the young men,” Haith said, adding that a timetable for their return has not been determined. “Both those guys have been spoken to individually, and they know what our expectations are, and they have to meet those expectations.”
The absences in the backcourt mean increased playing time and opportunity for others during the upcoming exhibition games. Missouri’s entire bench, regarded as one of the deepest in the nation, is expected to be in full rotation all three exhibitions leading up to the season opener Nov. 13 versus Alcorn State.
Senior Keion Bell would see time backing up senior Phil Pressey at the point Monday, and freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan could be a beneficiary of the vacancies since he “elevated his game” in recent practices, Haith said.
“We’re going to play a lot of different lineups, a lot of combinations, get a lot of guys a lot of minutes so we get them on tape to see themselves,” Haith said. “We’re really looking at execution, how well guys do things we ask them to do. Defense is going to be extremely important because I think this team could be a really good defensive team.”
With only Pressey and Dixon returning from 2011’s Big 12 Conference tournament championship team, Pressey, the Southeastern Conference’s preseason player of the year, stressed the importance of on-court chemistry before the season tips off, especially considering the team’s overhaul in transfers. Along with Oriakhi and Bell, junior Earnest Ross and sophomore Jabari Brown are expected to have significant roles this season.
“I feel like our chemistry is perfectly fine,” Pressey said. “Everybody likes each other off the court. I’m getting everybody going on the court. I feel like it’s as good as it can be, but playing these early exhibition games can help us out a lot.”