After a tough loss over the weekend at UCLA, the Missouri Tigers basketball team now must get ready to face a very good Bucknell team later this week before beginning their first ever SEC Conference schedule.
Point guard Phil Pressey was magnificent in the loss to the Bruins, recording a school-record 19 assists while pouring in 19 points of his own. Pressey did everything he could to help propel Mizzou to victory, but unfortunately his effort came up short.
The Preseason SEC Player of the Year is clearly the catalyst for head coach Frank Haith's Tigers on both ends of the floor and will burden much of the responsibility to live up to expectations and carry the Tigers through SEC play.
With so much reliance on Pressey's play-making on offense and his disruptive ability on the defensive end of the floor, are the Tigers too reliant on Pressey to compete for an SEC regular-season crown?
After Mizzou's first 12 games, and especially after the loss to UCLA, the Tigers do look to be too dependent on Phil Pressey and could suffer down the road because of it.
Pressey clearly is a special player and has a unique ability to dominate a game without ever shooting the basketball. He may be the best player in the entire country when it comes to making the players around him better.
This was clearly on display against the Bruins, and Pressey dazzled the crowd with no-look passes for 44 out of the 45 minutes of play.
But what would happen if Pressey were to get into foul trouble? Or if Pressey were to miss time due to injury? How would Haith's Tigers cope without the services of their special point guard?
With Michael Dixon banished and no longer around, Mizzou does not have a secondary ball-handler to turn to in an emergency.
Negus Webster-Chan has done an admirable job against weaker competition serving as Pressey's backup at point guard, but the freshman does not look to be suited to play the role against serious competition in pressure situations. Pressey sat just one minute against UCLA and Webster-Chan was noticeably uncomfortable during the brief stretch.
None of the other Mizzou guards, including Keion Bell and Jabari Brown, have the pedigree to play point guard either, leaving Pressey as the only reliable, let alone stellar, option at the all-important point guard position.
Not only are the Tigers thin at the position, but they are thin on play-makers as well. Besides Pressey, very few Tigers seem capable of creating their own shot or an opportunity for others.
Laurence Bowers, Mizzou's leading scorer at 16.9 points per game, is a nice player on the inside who can knock down open 15-18 foot jumpers. But Bowers is not going to create on his own and benefits from Pressey getting him the ball in a position to score.
The aforementioned Bell is a slasher and a scrapper who seems to excel more when the offense breaks down. Brown and forward Earnest Ross are decent outside shooters who are athletic enough to be a force on the offensive glass, but neither are going to create any offense for others on a regular basis.
When it comes to getting the Mizzou offense rolling, Pressey is the man that has to make it all happen, and often his teammates get caught up watching.
It is on Pressey to get the ball moving on offense and create shots for others. It is on Pressey to push the ball on the fast break to find easy buckets in transtion.
Everything Mizzou does goes through Phil Pressey.
Pressey may be the Most Valuable Player in all of college basketball. There is no other team that relies on one player to do so much.
If Pressey can live up to the hype and dominate games, Mizzou could very well make a lot of noise in the SEC and in the NCAA Tournament.
But if Pressey struggles, gets in foul trouble or goes down to injury, Mizzou may not be a factor at all.
Phil Pressey is that good, and yet the Tigers rely on him too much.