At 6 feet 9 inches and 226 pounds, junior forward Tony Criswell says he has the ability to guard anyone on the court. Whether he gets switched on to a point guard off a pick-and-roll or has to step up in rotation on a power forward, the Independence Community College transfer thinks he can play anywhere on the floor.
But Criswell says the rest of Missouri’s stable of forwards could do the same. After a year when coach Frank Haith only had one true post player, the Tigers run five men deep in what many consider the deepest frontcourt in the Southeastern Conference.
“I feel we have a good rotation of size, from Alex (Oriakhi) to Laurence (Bowers) to me, Ryan (Rosberg), Stefan (Jankovic),” Criswell said. “We’re pretty much versatile enough to guard about three-five. I feel like I have the ability to guard on switches or whatever one through five. I feel like with our size, we have the ability to take advantage of it this year.”
The average Tiger big man stands just over 6 feet 9 inches tall at 237 pounds. The frontcourt, anchored by seniors Bowers, Oriakhi and Criswell, runs five men deep. Haith says freshmen Jankovic and Rosburg could see time in the rotation as well.
“Having those bodies, I like that,” Haith said. “That’s what we want, to dominate the painted area.”
The depth in the big and tall department could also lend itself to keeping starters out of foul trouble — an issue that still haunts MU after last year saw second-seeded Missouri fall to 15-seed Norfolk State and Kyle O’Quinn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Haith often went to a four-guard, one-forward set in 2011, leaving 6-foot-8-inch Ricardo Ratliffe to guard the opponent’s center and undersized 6-foot-6-inch Kim English to check the power forward.
“Our rotational guys’ big play last year was Kim English drawing a charge and that was something we really had to create, because Kimmie was really good at it,” Haith said. “This year we got guys that can rotate and block shots and hopefully still take charges, too.”
In that season-ending loss to the Spartans, Missouri was out-rebounded by a 37-25 margin. O’Quinn pulled in 14 rebounds himself.
Already, the guys with size are making a big impact. In the Tigers’ first exhibition match, a 91-58 over Northwest Missouri State, MU pulled in seven more rebounds than the Bearcats.
“In this league, especially in this level of basketball, you got to put contact on somebody to rebound or they’re probably going to dunk it over your head,” Criswell said.
Though Haith still prefers a 4-1 set, one that is much more conducive to the Southeastern Conference’s up-tempo, fast-break-oriented style of play, the offensive abilities of Bowers, Criswell and the rest of the five could still be put to use, he says.
“Traditionally, I like four-out, one-in, but we’ll do some things with (Bowers) on the block because he has a great skill set around the basket,” Haith said. “He’s a great layup-maker and we got to utilize that in what we do in our offense.”
The nation’s most-hyped transfer class — highlighted by Oriakhi (Connecticut), Criswell (Independence Community College) and senior guard Keion Bell (Pepperdine) — still has some adjusting to do to the SEC’s up-and-down game.
“This team is going to be a fast team and that’s not really how I’m used to playing, but I got to change that because I got to keep up with (guards) Mike (Dixon) and Phil (Pressey),” Oriakhi said. “Or at least try to.”