Tigers set to pounce on Redhawks in season opener

The Frank Haith era in Columbia begins this ranked Missouri Tigers open up their 2011-12 season at home, taking on the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at Mizzou Arena.

The Tigers won 23 games a year ago, but finished a disappointing 8-8 in Big 12 Conference play. Haith has come over from Miami-Florida, where he revitalized a program, but was never quite able to push the Hurricanes over a certain level in the top-heavy ACC. He will have every opportunity to rectify that with Missouri, which is regarded as one of the real favorites in this year's wide-open Big 12.

The Redhawks suffered through a disappointing season last year, finishing with a mere 10 wins against 22 losses, including a 6-12 mark within the Ohio Valley Conference. In his third season at the helm, Dickey Nutt hopes this is the year SEMO can turn it around.

Missouri has won all five prior meetings in this series. The last matchup came in 1997, a 65-64 Missouri win.

The Redhawks struggled with their play at the defensive end of the floor last season and that is definitely an area of concern heading into 2011-12. There is promise for this team offensively though, beginning with Leon Powell. The forward is a menace for any opponent and led the team last season with 14.1 ppg and 7.7 rpg. However, Powe injured his knee in the preseason and is listed as day-to-day for this opener. Nick Niemczyk is a player that will be counted on as well. Niemczyk only played in five games last season, but his shooting ability was evident early on, as he connected on 13-of-30 three-point attempts. If he can remain on the floor for SEMO, the team should have a balanced inside/outside game.

Haith has the luxury of the most experienced team in the Big 12 and that will go a long way in Missouri's bid to climb the conference ladder. The Tigers return plenty of experience, but lost senior forward Laurence Bowers (6-8, 221) to a torn ACL in a recent pickup game. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, averaging 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game and will need to become even more of a leader in Bowers' absence up front. The backcourt is solid, headlined by seniors Marcus Denmon and Kim English. A First-Team All-Big 12 selection a year ago, Denmon (16.9 ppg) is one of the top shooters in the league, converting 50 percent from the floor, including 45 percent from behind the arc. English is another top-notch scoring threat and should be able to improve on his 10.0 ppg from a year ago. Adding to the backcourt depth will be sophomore Phil Pressey (6.5 ppg, 3.9 apg).