Column: Mizzou men’s basketball in danger of becoming irrelevant

As the Kim Anderson era winds to a near-certain close, the program is searching for answers.
Mizzou men's basketball coach Kim Anderson watches as his players run through drills at the beginning of practice.

Enter Mizzou Arena for a men’s basketball game, and the picture will not be pretty.

The venue was once teeming with fans who were loud in their support and proud of their team, which won 30 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament just five years ago. This season, the stands are almost completely empty, the atmosphere almost nonexistent. And so the deterioration of Mizzou men’s basketball continues.

The scene at Mizzou Arena represents the fall of Mizzou men’s basketball quite well. The structure, once a powerful symbol of Mizzou Athletics, now seems lifeless, with just an empty shell remaining to remind fans what once was. This year, the team has yet to win an SEC game almost halfway through conference play in what will almost surely be coach Kim Anderson’s final season.

Anderson is in danger of failing to win as many games in his three seasons as the 2011-12 team altogether. He’s been sitting on win number 24 since Dec. 6.

It’s not that the team has given up; most players seem to give their all, game in and game out. The problem is that these Tigers just aren’t very talented compared to teams past. On top of that, 13 players have left the Mizzou program since Anderson took over, including freshman Willie Jackson this season. Anderson’s recruiting skills seem to be so subpar he can’t even recruit his own players to stay on the team.

If you can’t recruit, you have to be able to build a team through growth and chemistry. Neither of these can be accomplished if you can’t stop the seemingly endless stream of transfers leaving your team.

This lack of stability has proven detrimental to the program on the court as well as in the stands. Mizzou’s average attendance this season is the lowest it’s been since the NCAA started recording men’s basketball attendance 40 years ago. At around 5,300, average attendance this season is about one-third the capacity of Mizzou Arena.

So what happens next? Assuming Anderson is ousted after the season, the athletics department will be faced with one of the most important decisions in Mizzou basketball history: who to hire next.

This may sound drastic, but consider this: After this season, Anderson will have finished with fewer than 10 wins twice in three years. The last time Mizzou failed to secure 10 wins was exactly 50 years ago, when they finished 3-22. This isn’t rock bottom, but it’s pretty darn close.

Mizzou’s next head coach has to be a great teacher to get the best out of the team’s current core of players. There are no head-turning recruits slated to join the team next season, so he must squeeze as many wins as possible out of the players he already has. He must also be able to retain the vast majority of the leftovers from Anderson’s squad. To build a proper base, you must first lay a sturdy foundation. Anderson failed largely because his core players kept leaving before he had the chance to build a true program.

For another handful of weeks, Tigers fans will continue to watch Anderson play out the last games of his tenure. Meanwhile, they will dream about what once was, or they will wonder what the future will be. If the next coach isn’t the right man for the job, all that will lay ahead is basketball irrelevance.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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