If you are a Rock M regular, you probably know what's coming here. I've made this comparison before, and I'll probably make it again. But the fact remains: If the Internet existed in the 1970s, Missouri fans would have given up on Norm Stewart more often than not. Norm, for all intents and purposes the father of Mizzou basketball, frequently went through seasons where either things didn't quite click, or the season ended earlier than expected due to an early NCAA Tournament.
In 1971, Missouri went 17-9 and finished second in conference but couldn't get past Kansas and missed out on the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. (In those days, there were only automatic bids.)
In 1972, Missouri went 21-6 and again finished second; they once again missed out on the tournament, then, and lost to St. John's in the first game of the NIT.
In 1973, Missouri again went 21-6, again finished second, and again lost in the first round of the NIT.
You get where I'm going with this -- Missouri fans wouldn't have handled six Norm years without a tourney bid, along with poor postseason performances, very well. But let's continue.
In 1974, after years of near misses, Mizzou plummeted to 3-11 in conference and 12-14 overall. Needless to say, www.firenorm.com would have been getting record hits. In 1975, the Tigers rebounded to third in the conference but lost to to Purdue in the first round of something called the NCIT. By the time Mizzou reached its breakthrough under Norm, the 1976 Elite Eight run in his ninth year, Mizzou fans would have given up on him on 17 different occasions. Tigerboard would have started a petition to fire both Norm and the athletic director. Et cetera. And just two years following the Elite Eight run, Mizzou would go 14-16 in 1978 and 13-15 in 1979. They would lose earlier than expected in the NCAA Tournament multiple times during Sundvold-and-Stipo years. They would drop back to 16-14 and 18-14 following the end of the Sundvold-and-Stipo era. They would make the NCAA Tournament for five straight years from 1986-90 (the first time that had ever happened), but they would advance past the first round just once. Their NCAA Tournament record from 1983 to 1993: 3-8. Plus, he got Missouri put on probation in 1990. And then he only made the NCAA Tournament once in his final four years in Columbia.
In other words, if we really want to, we can put a pretty damn negative spin on the golden era of Mizzou basketball. We could have judged Norm Stewart harshly for about 29 of his 32 seasons in Columbia. We could have run him out of town on rails on about nine different occasions.
It is no surprise, then, that we are doing the same to Frank Haith right now. In his first year, he lost to a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In his second, he took a team that was ranked 15th to start the season and reached as high as seventh but went just 23-11 and lost in the 8-9 game in the first round again. I've already seen "First Round Frank" make multiple appearances here. And like many others, I grew rather frustrated with the way Haith stuck to his coaching beliefs -- take a guy out for the rest of the first half when he picks up his second foul, slow the game down in the final minutes when you've got a lead, et cetera -- even when they clearly didn't mesh perfectly with his personnel. And I'm clearly not sold on him becoming the Next Norm. I'm not sold on him at all, actually. That's partially because of the shortcomings and partially because, after two years, you really haven't learned much about anybody.
I know this, however: In 2011-12, Haith inherited a team stuck on 23 wins, one with no incoming recruits and little size, and turned it into a 30-5 squad. In 2012-13, he lost six members of his seven-man rotation and pulled off enough roster tricks to finish with a "disappointing" 23 wins. While acknowledging that the negatives exist, it is still safe to say the positives outweigh them.
We'll soon look at the projected 2013-14 Mizzou roster, but before we get to that, I want to step back a bit and ask a question that, two years in, I have no idea how to answer: What is Haithball? What is Frank Haith's intended style of play? What are the most consistent personality traits of his teams? We don't yet know the answer to this, in part because the roster has been amazingly in flux. He inherited a roster recruited to play a completely different style of play than whatever-Haithball-is and crafted a winner out of it. He flipped almost the entire roster, incorporated a wealth of transfers, and crafted a 9-seed out of it. And entering Year 3, with mostly his recruits now in the mix (alongside the aforementioned transfers), we'll only start to get our answer. But leaving aside any conversation of overall quality -- the quality of this year's squad, the potential quality (or lack thereof) of next year's -- let's try to figure out exactly what Haith might be working toward down the line.
To do that, we have to go back to Miami. As much as we'd all like to forget that Haith ever coached at Miami, it is instructive to do so here.
The Ken Pomeroy archive goes back to 2002-03, two years before Haith's head coaching career began at Miami. So what we're going to do is compare some of Pomeroy's stats to what Haith's Miami and Missouri teams have looked like before, during and after his arrival at these respective schools.
First, we'll start with the changes he's made so far. Here is a comparison of Missouri's average rankings in the two years before Haith and in Haith's first two seasons in Columbia.
|% of pts from 3||145.0||165.0|
|% of pts from 2||154.5||171.5|
|% of pts from FT||248.0||198.0|
|% of pts from 3||275.0||92.0|
|% of pts from 2||117.5||136.0|
|% of pts from FT||94.0||310.5|
So in Haith's two seasons, Missouri has slowed down considerably and used a tiny bench. On offense, the Tigers have shot much better, turned the ball over more, improved on the offensive glass, gotten to the line more, shot 2-pointers better, gotten more shots blocked, attempted a higher frequency of 3-pointers, and created a lower proportion of baskets via assist. On defense, Mizzou has regressed overall, primarily because the Tigers no longer force turnovers. They allow more open looks from 3-point range but challenge 2-pointers better, foul FAR less frequently, and foul guys who are much less likely to make their free throws (i.e. bigs). They block fewer shots but allow fewer baskets via assist.
Now, a lot of this might be explained by simply looking at the personnel involved. In two years, Haith has had Ricardo Ratliffe (as a senior) and Alex Oriakhi as near-the-basket threats. Mike Anderson had Keith Ramsey and Ratliffe (as a junior). Plus, the two-year "pre" sample includes a year of J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor in the backcourt, while Haith has had Phil Pressey, with all of his well-defined strengths and weaknesses, for two years.
Through two years, however, we really only know what Haith will do with either somebody else's personnel, or with his own stopgap personnel. What happens when the program truly becomes Frank Haith's? To explore that, we'll have to look at four sets of Miami data: the two years before Haith arrived (2002-04), Haith's first two years (2004-06), Haith's final five years (2006-11), and the two years following his departure (2011-13).
|% of pts from 3||202.5||143.0||117.8||83.5|
|% of pts from 2||92.0||123.5||223.4||231.5|
|% of pts from FT||224.5||260.0||180.8||248.5|
|% of pts from 3||204.5||17.5||73.6||81.5|
|% of pts from 2||135.0||303.5||273.8||189.0|
|% of pts from FT||117.0||174.5||157.4||280.5|
So Haith inherited a pretty flawed squad from Perry Clark and immediately closed the pace down. On offense, the Hurricanes turned the ball over far less, hit the offensive glass better, shot a little better from 3-point range, and created most of their baskets on putbacks or one-on-one (i.e. non-assist) situations. On defense, Miami improved a bit overall, but only marginally so. They forced far fewer turnovers (and fouled far less frequently) and allowed a ton of 3-point attempts (and makes) but were much tougher close to the basket and rebounded a bit better.
So there are some similarities here. Haith inherits another guy's personnel and engineers a better offense (thanks mostly to higher-percentage shots and better rebounding) while his defense rebounds pretty well and avoids fouls but allows a ton of 3-point attempts and doesn't force turnovers. On offense, they're aggressive and work from the inside out. On defense, they're relatively passive and work from the inside out.
So what happened to Haith's team once it officially became 'his team'? Well, the first thing to notice, I guess, is that the team's overall stature didn't really change. Miami's overall ranking was an average of 53.5 in Haith's first two years and 53.6 over his next five. That includes some ups and down -- 12-20 with a brutally inexperienced team in Year 3, then 23-11 in Year 4 -- but on average the product was similar in Years 3-7 as it was in Years 1-2. From Missouri's perspective, that's a good thing -- Haith's average product at Missouri has been a Top 15 team.
Beyond the general quality discussion, though, what changed for Haith's team once his recruits took over? Miami became an even better shooting team, for one, but they turned the ball over with increasing frequency and didn't rebound quite as well. They drew more fouls and shot better on 2s, 3s and FTs. On defense, the quality remained almost exactly the same. The FG% improved (especially on 3-pointers), though the Hurricanes still allowed a ton of 3-point attempts. They forced turnovers even less-frequently as time went on (while fouling slightly more), and their rebounding was about the same. So for most of the shifts we can see starting in the first two years, they continued as time went on.
Now, there is one other factor at play here: luck. Here's how it's defined for Pomeroy purposes.
Luck - A measure of the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. It’s a Dean Oliver invention. Essentially, a team involved in a lot of close games should not win (or lose) all of them. Those that do will be viewed as lucky (or unlucky).
So basically, all other factors being equal, luck should even out over time. Only, for Haith, it really hasn't. At Miami, his teams ranked 323rd, 321st, 180th, 255th, 318th, 181st, 286th, and 319th in Luck. At Missouri, it's been 127th and 259th. Considering the national midpoint around 150th-180th, that means Haith's teams have been lucky once, neutral twice, and unlucky seven times. That could suggest really bad luck -- technically, if you flipped a coin 500 times, you could hit tails 350 times -- or it could suggest that Haith teams don't necessarily close games well. We have seen both sides of the coin in two years; Mizzou was 9-3 in single-digit games last year, 6-7 this year. But it is at least conceivable that this year's struggles could become a trend. We'll find out soon enough.
(And for those who say that losing Ernie Nestor and his tactical acumen after last season hurt considerably, I don't know if we're ever going to know that for sure, but you certainly have a little bit of evidence on your side.)
At Miami, Frank Haith was pretty quickly able to establish his general coaching personality of quality shots, good rebounding and generally passive defense. At Missouri, we have seen the makings of the same style, and if his later Miami tenure is any indication, we can expect the same. His overall time at Missouri will be defined by the quality of the players he brings in -- with good enough talent, you can win with these characteristics -- though it bears mentioning that a) as one would expect, his team's Experience ranking was very highly correlated to its overall ranking (a 0.82 correlation) and b) this coming Missouri team will easily be his least experienced in Columbia.
With the caliber of transfers and recruits he's brought in thus far, and with the support the Missouri athletic department has given him (I speak specifically of more money for better assistants like Tim Fuller), I think Haith's floor at Missouri is higher than what it was at Miami, but I do expect a step backwards next year, Phil Pressey or no Phil Pressey (we'll get to Flip in this series, too). That said, the experience correlation means the overall program's trajectory might not be any different even with a step backwards. In some ways, we're finally approaching Year 1 for Haith's program (especially if Pressey leaves). We'll see where it goes from here.