Leader of the Pack
Mizzou PG Phil Pressey has the Tigers in prime position to make an NCAA tournament run.
by Dave Spahn / @davespahn
Missouri is 26-4, No. 7 in the country and in position to possibly play for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Raise your hand if you pictured those things said about the Tigers prior to the start of the 2011-12 season.
Didn’t think so.
Nailed with the departure of their successful coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas, Mizzou faced a troubling dilemma. Who will replace the coach who brought in a plethora of talent the past five years? Missouri sported a talented roster, but their school is not known across the land as being a major player in the national hoops conversation.
Enter Matt Painter. The Purdue head coach who brought in the likes of current Celtics JaJuan Johnson and E’twaun Moore plus sharpshooter Robbie Hummel seemed to cherish the opportunity at Missouri and, from differing reports, was even rumored to have accepted the position. In the end, however, Painter stayed put in West Lafayette and left the Tigers in an even deeper hole. VCU’s Shaka Smart didn’t seem to be moving after his incredible final four run. Ditto for Butler’s Brad Stevens. Chris Mack denied leaving his home town job at Xavier, and Missouri was left out of options.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Missouri hired former Miami head coach Frank Haith, a move that shocked most fans from across the country. A relatively unproven head coach compared to the candidates in question, Haith came into Columbia with a lot of question marks to figure out. At this point in the season, it’s safe to say many of those questions have been answered in a big way. The formula behind those answers?
A small in stature point guard, Pressey does everything on the basketball court that a coach could ask for. He defends the opposing team’s point guard as well as any player in the nation. His shot, when clicking, puts even the most elite defenders in a bind. Sag off him and give up a three. Play tight on him and get beat to the bucket. Last but certainly not least, Pressey may very well be in the conversation for the nation’s best passer. His court vision is well beyond his years, finding seemingly every hole in the defense and hitting teammates who don’t even know they are open.
“I take it upon myself to get others involved in every game,” Pressey says. “It’s my duty as a leader and a point guard to find my teammates and get them the ball.”
The Tigers improved from 23-11 to 26-4 (and counting) from last season largely due to the offensive firepower of Marcus Denmon and Pressey’s overall ability to control the game. Pressey’s 179 assists rank him at No. 11 in the country, and his 2.5 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio rank No. 21 in the nation. Denmon’s 18 ppg have fueled the offense in big games, but Pressey’s ability to control the tempo, find open players, and run the point guard position are the keys to Missouri’s success.
Every good scorer needs someone to help keep the defense honest. Teams hesitate to double Denmon because Mizzou has too many offensive weapons. In fact, a decent chunk of Denmon’s lofty scoring numbers can be credited to Pressey’s ability to zip a pass to Denmon at the right time in the right place. Pressey has the role of bringing in all of Missouri’s talent and changing their team from a bunch of talented individuals to a cohesive unit.
From the moment last season ended, the players kicked their intensity up a few notches. His countless hours of dedication in the film room show on the court. The Missouri coaches call their players “The Overtime Crew” because of how much work they put in outside of practice, and Phil Pressey is no exception. He saw their hard work and dedication in the off season paying off on the court this year.
“We have better chemistry and a better feel for each other this year,” Pressey explains. “Over the summer, we all became a lot more comfortable with each other on and off the court, but we still cannot ever get satisfied. We have to continue to get better each and every game.”
With just one game left in the regular season for the Tigers, their hopes of becoming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament will rely on their play in the Big 12 tournament. They will rely on Marcus Denmon’s senior leadership and scoring numbers. They will rely on Ricardo Ratliffe’s physical play inside. They will rely on Kim English’s defensive intensity and flexibility. Most importantly, however, they will rely on Phil Pressey to do what he does best: be Phil Pressey.