Bernie Miklasz on Haith:
Missouri opens play in the SEC Tournament today, facing Texas A&M in a game that obviously could go either way.
My concern isn't about Mizzou's performance in the SEC tourney, it isn't about the NCAA Tournament bubble, it isn't about identifying false positives in what has been a truly annoying season. A season that raises serious questions moving foward.
Good luck to the Tigers in Atlanta and all of that, but my concern is more about the future.
I have no idea why so many in the media are pussyfooting and tiptoeing around the subject of bad Mizzou basketball.
Enough already with that.
Opinion: For a program that aspires to reach a high standard, Mizzou has been mostly awful and unwatchable this season.
And I'd like to know who plans to fix it. And who can fix it. And I wonder if Coach Frank Haith is capable of curing some rather serious fundamental flaws in his system.
And if Haith can't get this program back on track next season, then there's little reason to stay the course with him.
Well, not unless you're a supporter of mediocre, uninspiring basketball.
Let's not pretend this is just a unfortunate little stretch of turbulence for Mizzou basketball. There are too many empty seats for home games at Mizzou Arena, which conveys fan unrest – or even worse, ambivalence. And on the court, the performance trend is clearly pointing down.
In Haith's first season the Tigers went 14-4 in the Big 12 regular season, then swept three games to win the conference tournament and pump that record to 17-4. That was an outstanding showing in a tough, firsr-rate conference. But last season, Mizzou's first in the SEC, the Tigers went a so-so 11-7. This season, they declined to 9-9.
Why is this happening?
The constant roster churn is a factor. The steady influx of transfers certainly doesn't foster cohesion … at least I wouldn't think so. Mizzou's leadership (on the court) seems hard to locate. All you have to do is watch Saint Louis U. play to see the benefit of having a core group intact for multiple seasons. They play hard, they play unselfishly, and take charge on the floor by giving instructions and making corrections to each other. And no, I'm not bringing SLU up to antagonize Mizzou fans. I want to see the Tigers do well. It's more fun and exciting that way.
However, it's too easy to attribute all of the problems to the transfer rate. There are transfers all over Division I men's basketball. But are you finding the right transfers? Are you coaching them up once they arrive? To me, it seems that the bigger problem runs along these lines: (1) either Coach Haith and his staff aren't astute at identifying and evaluating talent; (2) they can't effectively coach the talent. Or maybe it's a combination of the two.
You'll recall that last season Haith had fits with getting point guard Phil Pressey to carry out instructions during games. This were a little out of control, yes? This season – and excuse me for generalizing and overstating but – it's the Jabari Brown Show, or the Jordan Clarkson Show, or the Jordan and Jabari Show, with the other Tigers limited to standing around and watching. There's noting wrong with handing the offense over to two talented players.
But there's a lot more to the game than talented players getting their points.
I've “only” lived in these parts since 1985. And I suppose there have been poorer ball-handling MU teams than this one. But I'll have to have my memory jarred to recall one.
According to Ken Pomeroy's rankings at KenPom.com, the Tigers turn the ball over on about 19 percent of their possessions, which ranks 210th among Division I teams. ]Their assist rate – the frequency of posting an assist on a basket – is only 44 percent, which ranks 320th nationally.
Remember how I talked about the trend arrow pointing down? The same applies here. The Tigers had problems handling the basketball last season too. Their turnover percentage ranked 122nd and their assist percentage ranked 233rd.
The turnovers in particular are harmful; Mizzou has scorers. It's remarkable to see them ranked 31st nationally in adjusted offense. That says a lot about the talent of Brown and Clarkson. But think about how effective the Tigers would be offensively if they just tidied up a bit and played cleaner ball? When you're losing nearly 20 percent of your possessions to turnovers, obviously that cuts into your scoring opportunities.
The mediocre assist rate could be attributed to a lot of things, but the first thing that comes to mind is having big men who can't finish. And that's another question: can Haith and staff develop big guys? And can they cultivate a quality bench? Can they cultivate role players -- those important non-starters who can influence the game?
Mizzou's second huge flaw is defense.
Perhaps the Tigers could overcome their helter-skelter offense if they played strong defense and caused a flurry of turnovers. But they don't. The Tigers don't force nearly enough turnovers, and they don't do a good job of stopping the basketball or aggressively contesting 3-point shots.
Mizzou's opponents have a turnover percentage of 15.9 percent, which means that MU ranks 312th nationally at forcing turnovers. Again, this is nothing new; the Tigers ranked 122nd in defensive turnover percentage last season. It's just gotten a lot worse.
That's also true of the assist rate against the Mizzou defense; opponents are assisting on 52 percent of their baskets against the Tigers and that ranks No. 174.
The assist rate against the Tigers is inflated on 3-point shots; opponents get way too many express-lane drives, too many open looks.
In SEC games only, the Tigers are last among the 14 teams in allowing 1.1 points per possession. They're 13th in allowing a point on 54.3 percent of their possessions.
They're 13th in forced turnover percentage on defense. They're last in steals percentage. They're 13th in allowing an effective field-goal percentage of 50.4 percent. Overall – in adjusted defense – the Tigers rank 13th. Is there any excuse for that?
When you turn it over too frequently on offense and don't turn opponents over when you're on defense, and are generally careless on both ends -- well, what do you think will happen? It's a formula for bad basketball.
It begs the question: can Haith set up a more efficient offensive system and coach up the players to play smarter and more disciplined basketball?
And can Haith coach defense? Does he recruit players who are willing to dig in and play tough defense? That's asking a kid to work hard, and some are less committed than others.
I really wonder about this. In Haith's three seasons at Mizzou, here's where the Tigers have ranked nationally in adjusted defense: 146th … 73rd … 154th. That must improve.
Is this the part where I'm supposed to say that I like Haith? It's true. Yep. I do like him personally. I hope he turns it around. And what does that have to do with anything? Absolutely nothing. This is about the state of the program.
That's why Mizzou director of athletics Mike Alden should be asking Haith some hard questions about what needs to be changed going forward in the recruiting approach. What needs to be changed to get Mizzou committed to playing defense, and developing a more cohesive offense. What needs to be done to fill the empty seats at Mizzou Arena and give fans a reason to give a damn.
Thanks for reading …