Pressey factor looms large for 15th-ranked Tigers


Pressey factor looms large for 15th-ranked Tigers

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Unlike football, Missouri's transition to the SEC might not be so difficult when it comes to the other marquee sport.

Only two players are back from Frank Haith's 30-win debut season, and just one starter, but that's preseason SEC player of the year Phil Pressey. A third cog is back on the front line after a year lost to injury, and then there are all of those blue-chip pickups for the AP national coach of the year to put on the floor when he's ready.

After setting career highs with 10.3 points, 6.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals, Pressey spent his summer competing at the LeBron James, Chris Paul and Deron Williams elite camps. Fellow guard Michael Dixon was perhaps the nation's best sixth man with a 13.5-pint average last season, and is a second-team preseason all-conference choice.

Forward Laurence Bowers returns from a left knee injury for his senior season needing just 26 blocks to become No. 2 on the school career list and 126 points for 1,000.

Perhaps it's a team that could finally end Missouri's Final Four drought. Last spring, the Tigers won the Big 12 tournament and were a No. 2 seed in the West before getting upset by Norfolk State in their NCAA opener.

``I really think so,'' Bowers said. ``From a talent standpoint, and just all the intangibles, we have a really good chance. Now, obviously, we've got to still work. You can have all the talent in the world, and if you don't have work ethic it doesn't matter.''

There's already a bump in the road, with Dixon and freshman Dominique Bull suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules prior to the exhibition opener. There is still plenty of time to get everyone aboard before the SEC opener Jan. 8 at home against Alabama.

Missouri is loaded with experience, especially for a school that lost Marcus Denmon and Kim English to the NBA draft, plus center Ricardo Ratliffe. The transfer class of Keion Bell, Jabari Brown, Alex Oriakhi and Earnest Ross is considered among the best in history by one publication, and Bell, Oriakhi and Ross started the exhibition opener.

The 6-9 Oriakhi played on the 2011 national title team with Connecticut and has one year of eligibility remaining. Brown (Oregon) and Ross (Auburn) are 6-5 guards and Bell (Pepperdine) is 6-4. Ross has SEC experience and led the team in rebounding during its European tour in August.

Better still, Brown practiced with the team last year.

``It helped me a lot, because I wasn't as far in the dark in terms of what to expect, in terms of how Coach Haith does things,'' Brown said. ``I got to see firsthand for all of last year, start of conference play.''

There's no doubt about the focal point. It's the elusive, fearless Pressey.

Missouri always had the inside recruiting track, given Pressey began his college career playing for Mike Anderson, whom he grew up calling ``Uncle Mike.'' Anderson was a college teammate of Pressey's father, former NBA star Paul Pressey. Now at Arkansas, Anderson knows all too well what he left behind.

``I've known him all his life,'' Anderson said. ``Phil is the epitome of a point guard, he's like a coach on the floor. I think he's ahead of his time. Obviously, he's got to go out and play and prove it, but I think he'll be up to that challenge.''

Pressey is a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award given to the nation's top point guard. Last year as a sophomore, he broke the school single-season record with 223 assists and his 74 steals is second-most. He is 158 assists and 61 steals shy of school career records.

Pressey and Dixon have piled up 569 assists as teammates and with 212 more will become the top assist tandem in school history in just three seasons.

``Only time can tell how good we can be,'' Pressey said. ``We're going to work every day, and I think we can have a terrific season.''

Missouri was the nation's top shooting team last season with 50 percent accuracy, and also was the best at assist/turnover ratio. The Tigers were in the top 10 in scoring (80.4 points), scoring margin (14.1 points), 3-point percentage (39.8 percent), turnovers (10.2) and turnover margin (4.1).

Haith's new team hit the ground running in the exhibition opener, going up 27-3 early against Division II Northwest Missouri State on Monday, and opens the regular season Nov. 10 at home against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. There are games against NIT champion Stanford and either Louisville or Northern Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis Nov. 22-24 and with the other side of the draw including Duke.

The Tigers begin a home-and-home series with UCLA, playing on the road this year Dec. 28, and they have a three-game winning streak in the annual Braggin' Rights game against Illinois in St. Louis, with this year's matchup set for Dec. 22.

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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.