Missouri fans have been waiting for weeks for guard Michael Dixon to return from a vaguely mandated indefinite suspension, probably assuming as I and many others have that Dixon's return was a not matter of if, but when.
The school made a total reversal late Thursday night, announcing that Dixon would not return to the team, and would instead transfer amid lingering allegations of sexual assault.
Details of Dixon's situation remain somehow both explicit and maddeningly vague. Two days ago, the Columbia Tribune reported Dixon was accused of forcible rape on Aug. 20, but an investigation by the Columbia, Mo., police determined it did not have enough evidence to file charges. Somewhere along the line, there was a Student Conduct Committee meeting, and some since-deleted tweets from former teammate Kim English, and it's tough to know what to make of all of this, legally speaking.
But whatever the legal fallout may or may not be, one thing is certain: Dixon's departure makes the Tigers worse.
It's not that Frank Haith's team won't remain talented. It will. Thanks to a host of new faces this season (transfers Keion Bell, Jabari Brown, Alex Oriakhi, and Earnest Ross) and solid returners (point guard Phil Pressey, forward Laurence Bowers), the Tigers have been able to basically reload despite losing so many crucial players (English, Marcus Denmon, Ricardo Ratliffe) from last year's 30-5 team.
But the Tigers will be losing their most gifted and intuitive scorer. Last season, Dixon posted a 122.7 offensive rating on a 24.4 possession percentage, the highest on the team, which is a quick numerical way of saying he touched the ball a lot, and usually scored when he did so. On a composite team filled with new guys, he was the perfect backcourt complement to Pressey, an experienced and fearless alpha dog with a variety of skills on the offensive end.
It is difficult to replace the top of your scoring hierarchy in the offseason, but it is even more difficult to do so in the season, and especially difficult to do when your team is already transitioning from a perimeter-oriented, ball-movement-heavy offense to what should be a more conventional system. Missouri has looked at least one ball handler and 3-point shooter away early this season, and now that Dixon is out, it means a) putting a ton of of pressure on Pressey's already-burdened shoulders and/or b) hoping talented Oregon transfer Jabari Brown has what it takes to step in.
Is Missouri still good enough to compete for the SEC title? Yes. Can I currently say that with any confidence? Nah, not really.
There are complicated stylistic reasons this hurts Missouri, and there are very simple ones. Either way, it hurts.