COLUMBIA, Mo. — No. 7 Missouri is undersized, yet undefeated.
New coach Frank Haith has players convinced that everyone has to chip in, and it has been Missouri's formula for success. In the Big 12 opener this week, Missouri was facing an Oklahoma team that came in outrebounding opponents by 10 per game.
Missouri guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English combined for 16 rebounds and the Pressey brothers added seven. The unselfish work by everyone in the four-guard offense helped Missouri (14-0, 1-0) sweep the glass with a 38-23 advantage during a 87-49 rout.
"No secret we're small," English said. "To a man, we're going to box out and try to secure those rebounds."
Players got a wakeup call the previous game when Old Dominion's 41-31 rebounding advantage made it tough in a seven-point victory, and ensuing practices emphasized that shortcoming. Haith also took the chance to again hammer home the point that unlike last season when it was run, run, run under Mike Anderson, he wants players to be certain the Tigers have possession before taking off.
"We've got to gang-rebound," Haith said. "We've got to all get in there and get in the fray. We're quick enough, we've got enough speed."
Missouri has outrebounded opponents by an average of four per game, with 6-8 Ricardo Ratliffe averaging 7.3, and English and Denmon and Matt Pressey all just under five per game. Point guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon total 5.1 per game.
That kind of dedication to the dirty work has helped Missouri remain unscathed, among just four unbeatens left, despite a seven-man rotation. Dixon is among the conference's best reserves, averaging 12.6 points and 3.1 assists, and a slimmed-down Steve Moore, who is 6-9, has been able to go longer.
The roster has gotten even smaller, losing its former eighth man. Forward Kadeem Green, a 6-8 redshirt freshman forward, decided to transfer this week after seeing his playing time evaporate, perhaps opening things up for late addition Andrew Jones, a tight end on the football team.
When the lineup is clicking, it's tough to stop, and without full-court pressure that leads to mistakes on both ends. Missouri shot 59 percent against Oklahoma and contested everything in a double-teaming, half-court defense.
The Tigers' average winning margin is 25 points, best in the country. They lead the nation in shooting (52 percent) and are second in scoring (86 points), yet have already held eight opponents to fewer than 60 points.
"Those guys can all handle the ball, they all can play out a triple threat and they all can pass," Haith said. "It sounds so simple but not everybody has that."
They've been unselfish, too. Phil Pressey had seven assists and one turnover against Oklahoma and has a school-record nine straight games with at least five assists, breaking the mark of seven straight by Anthony Peeler in 1989-90.
"Getting an assist on this team makes it feel like you scored a basket," Dixon said. "Marcus and Kimmie are two of the best shooters in the country, and anytime any of them are open it feels good when they hit the shot."
Haith said it's important for players to make the right choices on defense and to stay poised. For the coaching staff it's important that they are smart with practice time.
"We've got seven guys that are pretty doggone good," Haith said. "These guys, it's a long grind we've got in Big 12 play. We'll do our job and get these guys ready."
A big road test looms on Saturday at No. 23 Kansas State for Missouri, off to its best start since the 1981-82 team was 19-0. Missouri was just 1-7 on the road in conference play last season.
"All we can focus on is this year," Denmon said. "We're worried about the next game, and it happens to be on the road."