As I sit here in a hotel room in Indianapolis, I hope this doesn't come across as angry because I'm really more numb.
So, yet another couldah, shouldah, wouldah big second half lead turned into a loss. We are way past the point where the staff has to look at its situational strategy and do something different. I may not be a fancy, big city basketball coach but I know enough to recognize that we can no longer ignore the data.
1. This team plays differently with a lead. For all the things that are legitimately likable, even impressive, about HCFH, his seemingly slavish devotion to playing agonizingly slow with a big lead is perhaps -- no, is absolutely -- his coaching blind spot. I'm not sure if this comes from his Rick Barnes roots (another master of turning big leads into losses), but I would implore Haith to reassess things.
I am singling out the coach -- not "the team", not "Phil Pressey" -- for this criticism. Coach Haith asks his team to play at a snail's pace with a big lead when it is overall a decidedly mid-tempo team. Almost all coaches slow things down to some extent, but with Haith this year you could get whiplash he slams on the brakes so furiously. I realize he's resting players, especially Pressey. I'm not suggesting that Missouri should be playing at a "Fastest 40" Andersonian pace. Rather, I'm saying Haith's devotion to bleeding clock takes Missouri out of what it does best. Missouri is best at mixing things up. This team doesn't do any one thing expertly, except rebound. It's reasonably good at a wide assortment of different things though. A post up here, a well-designed look for three there, some screen roll, and the occasional push for an easy bucket. When Haith slows things down with a lead, he's asking the team to be expert at one thing: halfcourt execution. That has not worked well. Shockingly, for the 800th time this season stall ball did not serve the team well.
At about 10 minutes to go we went to all high screen rolls and bled the clock, more the latter than the former. And, it choked the life right out of the offense. We purposely stopped pushing the ball up to get shots before Ole Miss could set up its defense. Not necessarily a fast break, but the kind of offense where Alex Oriakhi can catch the ball on the move. It's not the only reason we lost, but it's hard to imagine we could not have gotten one more easy basket by pushing the tempo a bit when Ole Miss was staggered.
2. Playing slow is not the same as playing efficiently, coach. "Slow down a turnover-prone team to make sure you get a good shot" seems like one of those coaching idioms that is impervious to observation. It is one that I accepted for a long time, cutting my college hoops teeth as I did on John Chaney's Temple Owls. "Speed kills" was his motto. But speed doesn't kill. Stagnation kills. Offensive problems are less about playing fast or slow, and more about not moving and making the defense move. Really good offenses, regardless of tempo, make the defense move. They bend it. They overload it. They flex it. They force five defenders to constantly change perspective and position. So-called slow teams that are good offensively often run a defense to death across the width of the court, even if they're not taking a ton of shots. Bleeding clock only does one thing for certain: cut down the number of possessions for the offensive team. If you make it easy for the defense to get stops then push the ball down the floor you haven't done yourself any favors.