Key returners back for Tigers basketball

In this March 20, 2010, photo, Butler guard Ronald Nored, right, drives to the basket past Murray State guard Isacc Miles, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball tournament game in San Jose, Calif. Nored, a junior, says he thinks the team is better now than at the same time last year. Butler came within inches of bringing home a national title last year.

In this March 20, 2010, photo, Butler guard Ronald Nored, right, drives to the basket past Murray State guard Isacc Miles, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball tournament game in San Jose, Calif. Nored, a junior, says he thinks the team is better now than at the same time last year. Butler came within inches of bringing home a national title last year. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Expectations keep going up at Missouri. You’ll not hear Mike Anderson complaining about it.

The Tigers are ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2003-04, return four of their top five scorers and have a highly regarded recruiting class heading into Anderson’s fifth season as coach. He’s aiming for a third straight NCAA tournament appearance, rebuilding the reputation for a school that was shut out five straight years before his arrival.

“No one expects more than me from our team,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle and we just have to figure out where they fit.”

Forwards Kim English, Justin Safford and Laurence Bowers are back, along with guards Marcus Denmon and Michael Dixon from a team that went to the second round of the NCAA tournament and begins this season at No. 15. They’re all well-schooled in Anderson’s pressing, running system, which the school bills as “the 40 fastest minutes in basketball.”

All of them can shoot the 3-pointer and can take it to the hoop, too. Denmon (10.4 points per game) and Bowers (10.2) averaged in double figures, and Dixon averaged 11.5 points in two NCAA games.

“When your 5-10 point guard can go between the legs and dunk, that’s a pretty athletic team,” said English, a junior who led the team with a 14-point average. “From top to bottom, there are a lot of athletes on this team. That means that coach will want us to be even more all over the court wreaking havoc.”

Leading the newcomers is forward Ricardo Ratliffe, a heralded junior college transfer, and brothers Phil and Matt Pressey. The Presseys are sons of former NBA player and former teammate Paul Pressey, Anderson’s best friend.

The 6-8, 240-pound Ratliffe is expected to add an inside presence the school has lacked. Ratliffe averaged 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds last season at College of Central Florida.

“Coach Anderson brought me in here to rebound, score on the block and really just get some depth,” Ratliffe said. “I think I do a pretty good job of bringing that to the table.”

Another top recruit, 6-8 forward Tony Mitchell, could join the team at the semester break if he can straighten out his grades.

“We’re just hopeful that the process will work but I don’t think you can worry about what’s not taking place,” Anderson said. “You have to worry about the guys that are here and I’m certainly excited about this group.”

There appears to be enough options Missouri shouldn’t miss departed seniors J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey too much. Just like last year when the Tigers went to the Sweet 16 after bidding adieu to 1,000-point scorers Leo Lyons, DeMarre Carroll and Matt Lawrence.

“We’ll never lose the thing that’s most important,” Anderson said. “What is that? It’s to win games. Play to win.”

Safford is the lone senior, and is coming off a torn ACL at the end of last season. Anderson expects the offensive-minded English also to step up after leading the team in turnovers last season.

“For a guy that’s a big guard, he shouldn’t have that many,” Anderson said. “But I think he understands. You want to be the guys that coach is counting on.”

Anderson knows exactly what he’ll be getting from the Presseys. Just like he did in the past with Carroll, his nephew, and his son, Mike Jr.

“A lot of people said when DeMarre and Mike Jr. left, ‘Coach you don’t have any family left, now what’s going to happen?’ Well, now I have two more,” Anderson said. “They understand me, they understand this program, and they want to take it to higher heights.”

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