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Monday, April 16, 2012
New Bracketology: Is Mizzou too low?

By Eamonn Brennan

As you may have seen by now, ESPN.com resident Bracketologist and all-around awesome dude Joe Lunardi released his customary "way-too-early-but-nonetheless-really-fun" April edition of the 2012 bracket Monday. As you may have seen by now -- or likely guessed, based on our poll last week -- the Indiana Hoosiers are the early pick to receive the top spot in the field, with a Pittsburgh-Ohio Nos. 8/9 matchup looming in the second round.

Can Indiana survive to the second weekend? I don't know! This is just a snapshot. It's just for fun. The chances it resembles the actual bracket are obviously always minimal at best. (Though preseason rankings are more telling than you'd think. Seriously!)

But I did notice one seeding that intrigued me in a genuine "oh, that feels maybe a little bit low" kind of way, because that is the absolute ceiling for disagreement with a 2012-13 bracket chosen in April 2012. That team is Missouri; that seeding is No. 5. Why? Because I wonder if Missouri won't be a good deal better than we think at this point in the offseason.

The latest news out of Columbia, Mo. came Saturday, when UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi revealed he would play his final year of college hoops -- which he can participate in right away, thanks to a transfer exemption caused by Connecticut's APR-related tournament ban -- for the Tigers. ""Missouri needs a center, and I'm going to be the center. It's a perfect match," Oriakhi told the Kansas City Star, and he's right. With senior forwards Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore both gone, the Tigers desperately needed some legitimate Division-I size, and Oriakhi is definitely that.

The rest of the lineup is looking pretty intriguing, too. Missouri has serious personnel losses to contend with -- in addition to Ratliffe and Moore, guards Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey and Kim English were all seniors, too -- but their returners are more than capable of excelling in those players' absence. One is Flip Pressey, who emerged as one of the nation's best point guards as a sophomore in 2012. The other is Michael Dixon, a reserve who played starter minutes. The fact that Missouri coach Frank Haith can lose Denmon, English and the elder Pressey and still have a backcourt this promising is a testament to how incredibly deep Missouri was at the position last season.

They won't have that depth in 2012-13, but they may be far more balanced in the trade. Oriakhi will play alongside power forward Laurence Bowers, who -- remember him? -- tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 campaign. Bowers' return should add to a beefier, more conventional front line, but still one capable of contending at the highest levels of the Big 12 SEC next season. And if Haith can find a worthy reserve or two stashed on his bench -- or among a 2012 recruiting class that hauled in seven new players -- his lineup may be a difficult one to contend with. (Update: Other than the Big 12/SEC fix above, Twitter follower @mikemoreau85 reminds me that Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, a talented 6-foot-5 guard, could join the team as soon as December. So factor that in as well.)

It may also have some glaring holes. Frankly, it could go either way. So while I see Joe's slotting of Missouri at No. 5 as entirely reasonable, I could also see the Tigers' major personnel losses obscuring what could remain a really dynamic, albeit more "normal" (i.e., less guard-dominated) team in 2012-13. Fortunately, we've got about six months to figure this all out, so we don't have to commit to any predictions just yet.

But it's safe to say this much: The 2012-13 Missouri Tigers are going to look vastly different from last year's version, and they are going to be fascinating to watch, even if for entirely different reasons. Frankly, I can't wait.*

*It is around this time every year that I begin soliciting readers' ideas for one truly important quest: A time-travel device that will take us to October 15 -- Midnight Madness -- without having to deal with the rest of the offseason. Any and all designs to this effect should be submitted in the comments below. Together, we can break the space-time continuum and watch college basketball year-round. It's what Einstein would have wanted, you guys.