Junior guard Michael Dixon hasn’t taken kindly to attempts by the media to delineate what word best defines his role.
“He doesn’t want to be called a sixth man," coach Frank Haith said. "I don’t know what we want to call him, can’t call him ‘spark plug.’"
Haith was referencing a press conference earlier this season, when the junior took offense to being labeled a “spark plug” by a Maneater reporter.
“I don’t like that word very much,” Dixon said. “I feel like I’m a facilitator. I’ll do whatever I need to do for this team to win, whether that’s coming off the bench or starting, but I’m not too high on being a spark plug.”
Early in the season, whether he’d admit it or not, Dixon was just that, a spark plug coming off the bench and often times igniting the offense with timely buckets.
After starting 25 games in his first two years on campus, Dixon hasn’t had his name introduced by the PA announcer this year, but some opposing coaches said they believe he might as well.
“I consider him a sixth starter, coming in and doing what he can do offensively,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Dixon comes off the bench to start the game, but he seldom returns there. Dixon averages 15.9 points and 4.9 assists on 65 percent shooting over the last six games, and is fourth on the team in minutes per game at 25.7. The total is slightly more than senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (25.5) and just less than the guard starting over him, senior Matt Pressey (26.4).
“It’s not necessarily who starts the game," Haith said. "It’s who finishes the game.”
Dixon is not a fan of being a “spark plug,” so perhaps being labeled “the closer” better satisfies him.
With 30 seconds remaining against Texas on Jan. 30, Missouri trailed by one. Dixon drove the lane and floated a left-handed layup over the top of a Longhorn defender, banking it in off the glass. The bucket held up as the game-winner in the Tigers' 67-66 victory.
In their next game against then-No. 8 Kansas on Feb. 4, the Tigers led by one with 10 seconds remaining. Dixon took a charge from Tyshawn Taylor before proceeding to connect on a pair of free throws to seal a 74-71 victory.
“Mike could probably start on any other team in the nation,” Ratliffe said. “It’s like instant offense. He’s a scoring point guard and Phil (Pressey) is a pass-first point guard so it gives us the best of both worlds with those guys.”
Dixon and the Pressey brothers have complemented each other nicely, with Phil orchestrating the offense, Dixon providing a boost off the bench and Matt doing an admirable job guarding the opposing team's top scoring threat.
Haith said he admires how well Dixon has handled having to come off the bench, attributing Dixon’s success to the rugged mindset he has.
“I can get after Mike, I can really get after Mike, and I love that about him,” Haith said. “He’s tough mentally. He’s hard-nosed. He’s not afraid to take a big shot. He’s not afraid to make a great defensive play.”
Dixon’s play has made him essentially a shoo-in for Big 12 Conference sixth man of the year, and a front-runner for national sixth-man of the year.
“He’s playing at a high, high level right now,” Haith said. “We sense it, he senses it when he gets in the game, he’s got a great confidence the way he’s playing right now.”