- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Missouri Tigers are one of the smallest high-major teams in the country. Frankly, they're one of the smallest teams in the country, period. Their average height of 75.6 inches ranks them No. 300 in the country, per Pomeroy; this is a guard-oriented team with a 6-foot-6 shooting guard (Kim English) playing the majority of the minutes at power forward.
Of course, that lack of height hasn't been an issue. Missouri is 13-0 with the second-most efficient offense in the country to date. In fact, that lack of height is almost an advantage. Few teams can match up with the Tigers' lightning-quick guards; most opponents don't have a player to match up wtih Marcus Denmon's speed and shooting, let alone the personnel to check Denmon and fellow guards Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon at the same time. When coach Frank Haith runs those three alongside English and (actual) forward Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri forces more mismatch problems for its opponent than it creates for itself. Hence that offensive efficiency. Hence the 13-0 record.
In other words, the news that little-used Tigers freshman Kadeem Green is transferring -- well, it's hardly devastating. Green has played sparingly in his first season in Columbia, averaging 3.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10.5 minutes per game. What's more, Green's minutes have steadily dropped; he didn't play at all in recent wins against Villanova and Illinois, and he played a solitary minute in Missouri's tough road win at Old Dominion on Friday. He wasn't playing, so he decided to transfer. For his part, Haith seems to understand:
“We obviously wish Kadeem nothing but the best as he moves forward with this decision,” Coach Frank Haith said in a statement. “Kadeem made great strides during his time at Mizzou, and we are sad to see him leave the program. This is a decision that did not come easily for Kadeem -- he has made a lot of friends and he has really enjoyed his time here at Mizzou. Decisions like this are never easy, but we certainly thank Kadeem for the time that he dedicated to our program and want nothing but the best for him moving forward.”
No harm, no foul. Haith's response doesn't even register on the Memorial Phil Martelli Unwise Transfer Response Scale. (Take notes, St. Joe's.) So why am I even writing this blog post? What's the big deal?
The big deal is this: Thanks to Green's departure, Haith now has just seven -- yes, seven -- scholarship players available on his roster. What's more, Green was a 6-foot-8, 210 pound big man. As The Dagger's Jeff Eisenberg noted today, he was one of only three players on Missouri's current roster standing taller than 6-foot-6. Now, that number is two.
Of course, as you read above, size isn't really the issue. Haith doesn't need to play a conventional power forward/center combo in his frontcourt; why do that when English and his top-15 effective field goal and true shooting percentages are stretching defenses past their breaking points?
The issue, of course, is depth. Seven scholarship players is one thing; Missouri's rotation doesn't go much deeper than that anyway. But Ratliffe and reserve forward Steve Moore are Haith's only options in the frontcourt going forward. If either suffers an injury (remember, Mizzou has already lost putative power forward Lawrence Bowers to a season-ending ACL tear), the other will be the only big man on the roster, let alone in the starting lineup. Even if both remain healthy, foul trouble could create serious problems on a game-to-game basis. And even then -- in a magical world where Ratliffe never fouls opposing big men -- he'll almost certainly have to play more than 24.0 minutes per game, his average to date. Moore will have to play more (ahem) minutes, too.
Missouri's rotation was already shallow, its lineup already small. Neither characteristic has presented a problem thus far. But if any of the above dire scenarios come to fruition -- injury, foul trouble, fatigue, you name it -- Haith won't have an insurance policy in place.
Can this team stay healthy? If yes, great. But can just seven players win the Big 12? Can a team with two players taller than 6-foot-6 reach the Final Four? We're about to find out.