Missouri already knew it would be facing Ole Miss on Saturday without Laurence Bowers. But the Tigers still hope to get Tony Criswell back in time for the trip to Oxford.
"That will be a game time decision," Frank Haith said on a Thursday afternoon conference call. "He did some work today, so we'll see how it goes tomorrow at practice and it will be a game time decision."
Criswell has missed Missouri's last three games since breaking a finger on his left hand against Illinois in the Tigers' final game before Christmas. The 6-foot-9 forward was averaging six points and nine rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game prior to the injury.
Without Criswell, the Tigers have struggled on the glass. Missouri won the rebounding battle in each of its first 12 games and was second in the country in rebounding margin at the start of 2013. But Bucknell and Alabama both grabbed more rebounds than the Tigers. And now they will be without Bowers' 6.9 boards per game for at least the next two games after he sprained the MCL in his right knee in Tuesday's win over Alabama.
"There's no question, our rebound numbers are down a little bit with not having Tony and now not having Laurence. We don't have that depth and rotation we did early in the year," Haith said. "Our guards have got to do a better job of rebounding the ball."
If Criswell is unable to go, expect Earnest Ross to get extended minutes at what Missouri calls the "stretch four" position as the Tigers go with a smaller lineup. Even if Criswell can play, Haith knows some of his lesser-used players will have to see more court time.
"I think they all got to be ready. We need everybody," Haith said. "I think Ryan's (Rosburg) gonna get minutes, I think Stef's (Jankovic) gonna get minutes, I think Negus (Webster-Chan). I think all those guys, regardless of whether Tony's playing or not. This is gonna be his first game back so we can't expect him to go out there and play 30 minutes."
Regardless of just how many hands are on deck for the Tigers, the game in Oxford appears a bit tougher than it did at the beginning of the season. The Rebels are 12-and-2, fresh off a dominant 94-76 win at Tennessee on Wednesday night. Especially with a win against Mizzou, Ole Miss could stake claim to the early season bid for fourth-best team in the SEC behind of Missouri, Florida and Kentucky, whom most consider a cut above the rest of the conference.
"Wow. Ole Miss can really score the ball. Watching them on tape, not just last night, they're a very confident team.," Haith said. "Athletically, their front line is as athletic as anyone we've played this year as far as (Murphy) Holloway and (Reginald) Buckner."
That duo combines to average 26.6 points and 18.6 rebounds for Andy Kennedy. Throw in leading scorer Marshall Henderson, who posted 32 in the win over Tennessee, and the Rebels have a number of offensive options.
"He's got the ultimate green light and he can get it going," Haith said. "You can't be surprised by any shot he takes or for that matter any shot he makes."
The Tigers and Ole Miss tip off at 7 p.m. Central in Oxford on Saturday night.
Nobody covers the Tigers year-round like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free trial.