MU basketball looks to the season ahead

The team opens practice Friday and hosts the Black and Gold Game Oct. 23.

The accomplishments cast a long shadow.

An appearance in the Elite Eight. A Big 12 Tournament championship. A school-record 31 victories. A perfect record in Mizzou Arena.

Missouri men's basketball opens practice Friday and looks to move out of last year's shadow and into the light of a new season.

"I think they understand it's going to be a tremendous task following up on one of the more successful seasons in the history of the school," coach Mike Anderson said at Missouri's Media Day Wednesday. "It was a special year with those guys."

Some of "those guys" to whom Anderson was referring were graduating seniors DeMarre Carroll, Matt Lawrence, Leo Lyons and Michael Anderson Jr.

Missouri looks to replace its production with a roster featuring younger players centered on a core of juniors and seniors.

Anderson said he realized this year's team would have a different look.

"This is going to be a different team than last year's team," Anderson said. "With that being said, this team needs to find its own identity. What's this team going to hang its hat on?"

Among the three seniors returning for Missouri is guard J.T. Tiller. Tiller, the 2009 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, said Missouri won't be able to jump out and surprise people like last year's team did.

Tiller said Missouri would have a target on its back.

"For the fact that we actually went far last year doing what we are known to do," Tiller said. "Teams don't want to be surprised by that anymore. They're going to work towards not letting us do what we want to do this year."

Although Missouri had a season to remember in 2008-09, they find themselves at No. 7 in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll. The Tigers were also ranked No. 7 last year.

Tiller said Missouri pays no heed to rankings.

"That doesn't win games," Tiller said. "You've got to go out there on the court and win the games yourself."

The two other returning seniors are guard Zaire Taylor and forward Keith Ramsey. The Tigers also bring back contributors junior forward Justin Safford and sophomore guards Miguel Paul, Marcus Denmon and Kim English, among others.

Missouri's roster features three freshmen, including guard Mike Dixon, a product of Lee's Summit West High School outside Kansas City.

The Tigers hit the court for the Black and Gold intra-squad game Oct. 23 and will host Truman State for the preseason opener Nov. 6.

For Taylor, the experience of getting so close to the Final Four in last year's loss to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament has helped with preparation for the 2009-10 season.

"I'm anxious to play," Taylor said. "I think that experience has fueled me and I'm sure it's fueled a lot of the guys who played last season."

Regardless of the turnover from last season, Anderson said his team would remain defensively strong.

"They understand our team is going to be a team that hangs our hats on defense," Anderson said. "Every time you hear me beat the drum it's going to be about our defense. Our defense will create some easy offense."

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