COLUMBIA, Mo. – After losing as a No. 2 seed in its first game in the NCAA tournament, Missouri joins the Southeastern Conference in need of a new identity in coach Frank Haith's second season with the program.
Junior point guard Phil Pressey is the lone returning starter and senior forward Laurence Bowers rejoins the team after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Five transfers and five freshmen will join them when practice starts. A sixth transfer, Jabari Brown, becomes eligible in December.
With so many new players, talent isn't as much a concern as chemistry.
"I think there's no question, that's what it's all about," Haith said. "You can have a lot of great, talented players. But if it doesn't mesh well, you're not going to have a great basketball team."
With five players taller than 6-feet-8, Missouri won't use a four-guard lineup as it did last season as part of a seven-man rotation. Haith, the 2012 Associated Press Coach of the Year, guided the team to a 30-5 record as it led the country in field goal percentage (.504) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6).
After crediting last year's preseason trip to Europe for helping the team learn his new system, Haith had the team again travel in August with the main intent being to bond. Pressey said players hardly ever used phones, and were able to focus on learning to play with each other for the first time after some watched last season's team from the sidelines to comply with NCAA transfer rules.
"You get to see your teammates when things are not going your way, when adversity hits," senior forward Alex Oriakhi said. "You get to see where everybody's at, so I think that's exactly what we needed."
Oriakhi transferred from Connecticut, where he was part of a national championship team in 2011. He isn't required to sit out a year because his former school is ineligible for this postseason after failing to meet NCAA academic requirements.
He says the Tigers definitely play a more up-tempo style of offense, even without the four-guard lineup that was used out of necessity last season. The 6-9, 255-pound center isn't accustomed to the amount of running, but he's already reaping at least one benefit.
"You just have to be in tremendous shape to play in this offense," Oriakhi said.
With the departures of Marcus Denmon and Kim English, Haith hopes to find new leaders in Pressey and Bowers, who along with senior guard Michael Dixon have the only experience playing at Missouri.
Pressey, who played alongside his brother Matt the last two years, says he took a back seat to the seniors a season ago, wanting to observe before sharing what he learned with his current team.
"You've got to be confident in whatever you do," he said. "And I felt like they were positive all throughout the year, and it helped our team. And when you're positive, it flows throughout your team. Everybody just seems to feed off that."
Bowers, meanwhile, is just happy to be back on the court. Having not played in front of fans since March 2011, he's anxious to play in the team's public scrimmage Friday and then the season opener on Nov. 10.
The 6-8, 227-pound forward says he's pain-free, and grateful for Oriakhi's presence alongside him in the paint. Bowers didn't want to play center, and even told his new teammate as much during Oriakhi's visit in April.
"I feel like the sky's the limit for this team," Bowers said. "I've never really came out and said we have a chance to win a national championship, but with this team, I really do."