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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Column: Frank Haith era brings ‘Demise of the Tigers’

Coaching to blame as the Tigers continue to get mired down in subpar basketball.

Feb. 26, 2014

It’s no denying that the best college hoops team in Missouri calls St. Louis “home.”

Tiger basketball fans need to sober up and quit hating on that odd-looking Billiken mascot. Facts don’t lie: Missouri basketball flat out sucks this year compared to St. Louis University.

See for yourself:

SLU is ranked No. 10 in the country. Missouri is not even amongst those “also receiving votes.”

SLU is 25-2 and vying for a three seed in next month's NCAA tournament; Mizzou is 19-8 and fighting just to make the Big Dance.

SLU is riding a 19-game winning streak; Mizzou is 3-4 in its last seven games.

Incredibly, SLU has captured wins without a four-star recruit. Mizzou, though, has three: Wes Clark, Jonathan Williams III, and Jabari Brown, plus three more — Deuce Bello, Cameron Biedscheid and Zach Price — sitting out this year.

I compare SLU and Mizzou because these teams are the two best D-I teams in Missouri. The Bills and the Tigers are located two hours apart and share many fans.

Over the last three seasons they've both had a lot of regular season success and experienced coaching changes. Yet I don’t want to merely compare the programs.

Let’s take a look at the coaching.

SLU's head coach Jim Crews starts five seniors, all of whom were recruited by the late Rick Majerus. Crews has changed very little since Majerus' passing with the team's main focus still being a half-court defense and well-balanced scoring.

While I'm happy with SLU's success and how seamless the transition between coaches has been, I'm still skeptical of Crews as a head coach. You can't fairly gauge a coach until he's coaching exclusively players he recruited.

Otherwise you have a situation like the 2012 Missouri Tigers, with Frank Haith winning National Coach of the Year despite making no line-up or philosophy changes from his predecessor Mike Anderson.

Even back in 2012, though, there were signs of a specific area where Haith struggles as a coach: late in close games.

Though he went 4-2 in one possession/overtime games his first year, I'm sure that Tiger fans remember the two losses (a catastrophic second half let down at Kansas and a historic upset loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Norfolk State) more than the four wins.

Since then, Haith's teams have gone 6-11 in such games.

Unlike Haith however, Crews hasn't given off any indications of where he might struggle as a coach. His teams show up mentally prepared for every game, never lose games they're supposed to win (see Mizzou vs. Georgia at Mizzou Arena earlier this season) and display poise down the stretch of close games.

On a very basic level, the Billikens are simply more fun to watch. No, they don't have a dominant scorer like Brown, or a player with the one-on-one moves of Jordan Clarkson, but they play as a team.

How often do you see a Mizzou player make an extra pass to an open teammate, or see a Mizzou opponent forced into a tough shot as the shot clock winds down? SLU is 61st nationally in assists; Mizzou is 311th, and according to kenpom.com, SLU is second in adjusted defensive rankings while Mizzou is 149th.

SLU basketball's motto this year is the “Rise of the Billikens.” I truly hope that this year isn't the start of the “Demise of the Tigers.”

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