Fans are losing hope in Frank Haith.
It’s hard to disagree.
Ever since Missouri’s disappointing loss to Illinois in the annual Braggin’ Rights game, the Tigers have struggled. In the past six games, Missouri has a record of 3-3, two of those losses coming against subpar conference teams.
The most recent home loss to Georgia ended a 26-game home winning streak, which was tied for most in the NCAA. Georgia came into play with a 6-6 record and only one win on the road.
Haith told the media after the loss to Georgia that the team was acting “too cool” on the court and lacked aggressiveness on the boards.
So the question posed is: How can this team improve in the regular season to make it further than the second round in the NCAA tournament come March?
The short answer: chemistry.
The long answer: Improving the chemistry of a team in any sport is essential to its success. With collegiate basketball, however, it’s more difficult because players often forego their collegiate careers after just one season to enter the NBA draft.
In past years Missouri has been fortunate enough to have solid four-year players such as Kim English and Laurence Bowers to build around, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Haith is extremely talented at picking up transfers from other schools to increase the team’s potential. He brought in former center Alex Oriakhi from Connecticut, Keion Bell from Pepperdine, Earnest Ross from Auburn and Jabari Brown from Oregon, all of whom have contributed as big playmakers during their time under coach Haith.
The hard part, though, comes when Missouri plays other teams which, no matter how bad they might look on paper, have played more than one season together. I’m not saying freshmen and transfers can’t produce the same results as teams who’ve had experience together, but it’s harder to do so when you’ve spent considerably less time learning each other’s play styles.
Remember this year’s team is essentially an entire new squad with the exception of Brown, Ross and Ryan Rosburg.
Chemistry only accounts for a part of a team’s success. Executing plays throughout the game is also a key ingredient for generating victories.
Missouri needs to work on the fundamentals like making layups and rebounding on defense, minimizing the opposition’s second chance opportunities.
Haith has to constantly remind his players that every game counts. If you aren’t giving it your all 110 percent of the time, teams like Georgia and Vanderbilt will sneak up from behind and severely damage your tournament résumé.
I’m for dunks and flair as much as the next guy, but when the easy plays aren’t being executed, something’s got to change. Instilling the fundamentals time after time, working on easy passes— those are where the games are won and lost. The starters can’t carry the entire load; the bench players have to step up when Haith puts them on the court.
Some hope still remains, though.
A strong defensive showing in a commanding victory over Alabama helped the Tigers. But Missouri will need wins over Kentucky and Florida if it wants to be a real competitor.
Missouri’s chances for NCAA tournament play aren’t hopeless. But jaded fans are quick to point out that, as of now, all Frank Haith really has is a win over UCLA.