With big assist from Haith, Missouri's Pressey thriving at point guard

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Phil Pressey has more leverage under his new coach than he did under his close family friend. (US Presswire)  
Phil Pressey has more leverage under his new coach than he did under his close family friend. (US Presswire)  

NEW YORK -- After Mike Anderson left for Arkansas, Phil Pressey thought about following his "uncle" to Fayetteville for a minute. This was his father's best friend, the reason why he came to Missouri in the first place.

But Pressey made the decision to stay in Columbia -- and he has no regrets.

"In that system, nobody plays more than 25 minutes," Pressey said of playing for Anderson. "You're in and out, in and out. It never gave us a chance to get into a rhythm."

Life is different now -- without Uncle Mike. Now Pressey has been handed the reins by new coach Frank Haith and it's no coincidence that Missouri has gone from a team clearly with chemistry issues to one that is clicking on all cylinders, one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country.

The 10th-ranked Tigers, who pummeled Cal and Notre Dame earlier in the month in Kansas City, improved to 8-0 after a fairly convincing 10-point victory against Villanova on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. Pressey was only 1 for 8 from the field, but controlled the tempo when he was in the game and finished with 12 assists in 24 foul-plagued minutes.

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Pressey doesn't have to be a scoring threat in order to dominate. Earlier this season, against Binghamton, Pressey didn't attempt a single shot and was still arguably the most important player on the floor, finishing with 11 assists and not a single turnover.

Much of his success can be attributed to the fact that he is now allowed to play through his mistakes.

"I'm able to dictate the game and Coach Haith allows me to show my talent a lot more," Pressey said. "Coach Haith trusts me and I trust him."

You'd think that Uncle Mike, who is best friends with Pressey's father, former NBA player Paul, would have done the same with the pint-sized, jet-quick floor leader.

But it never quite seemed to be the case.

"He's special," said Haith, whose first move after coming from Miami was to hand the ball to the pass-first point guard. "When he's in the game, we're a different team."

That's no knock on backup point guard Michael Dixon, either, who wound up with six points, seven assists and only one turnover. But Pressey just gets his teammates shots. Open, uncontested ones.

Just think Kendall Marshall with speed.

"He makes everything happen," Missouri senior Kim English said after the victory against 'Nova. "I couldn't believe we were that open, but that's a testament to Phil and how fast he is with the ball. He gets you on your heels and you have to pay attention to him."

Don't get me wrong. English and Denmon are terrific perimeter shooters, but there's a reason why they are shooting a combined 52 percent from beyond the arc thus far this season.

Anderson's up-tempo system appeared to be as conducive to Pressey's skill set as any, but Haith's has taken it one step further. Pressey and his teammates are encouraged to push the ball quickly, however, if there isn't anything in transition, Haith has implemented an offense that utilizes ball screens -- which is ideal for Pressey.

"We're still allowed to play open, but there's a little more structure," Denmon said.

This Missouri team is still vulnerable. The Tigers are thin up front after a season-ending knee injury to Laurence Bowers, but English has been a tough matchup for opponents at power forward due to his ability to step out and make shots. Denmon is one of the most underrated players in the nation and Pressey's older brother, Matt, has thrived in his role as a defensive stopper and glue guy.

But make no mistake, the key to Missouri is the younger Pressey.

"When he gets the ball in his hands, he's going to find guys," Matt Pressey said of his brother.

"He's got eyes, not just on the back of his head, but on the side of his head and everywhere else," Missouri big man Ricardo Ratliffe added.

Everyone from English to Denmon to the Pressey's admitted chemistry was an issue a year ago.

"Miserable," English said to sum up last season.

Now Uncle Mike is gone, Pressey has the ball and is making sure everyone is happy.

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