In today's Tennessee preview, I posted a picture from last year's game -- it's Jarnell Stokes grabbing a rebound with three Mizzou players in the screen: Alex Oriakhi, Laurence Bowers, and Phil Pressey. None of those three players are in uniform this year.
Jabari Brown has improved dramatically from his first year (playing) in the program to his second.
Earnest Ross has become much less volatile and streaky this in his second year (playing) in the program.
Ryan Rosburg has improved a decent amount between his freshman and sophomore season.
Of all the problems this team may have right now, the second-year players have all taken decent to significant steps forward.
I've never been able to fully throw myself into the Mike Anderson hatred. I haven't minded it at all -- it has made for some pretty intense environments when Arkansas plays Missouri, and that's a really good thing, I think. Still, there were tons of hurt feelings regarding his "I want to retire at Mizzou" talk, but all coaches say that. You don't know for sure that you're going to leave until you leave, so you fill the airwaves with as much "I'm staying, really!" talk as possible. That didn't bother me.
Mizzou fans have also complained quite a bit about the empty cupboard Anderson left, however, and over time I've come to see this complaint as more and more important.
When Frank Haith came to Missouri, he was basically looking at the following roster arrangement:
There were no recruits signed for the 2011 recruiting class -- not Otto Porter, and not anybody else. Add to that the fact that Dixon would get kicked off the team without playing in Year 2, that Green would transfer midway through Year 1 because he wasn't getting much playing time, and that Pressey would go pro a year early, and you're looking at this instead (taking Bowers' injury into account):
M. Pressey (Sr.)
If Year 1 of the Haith era taught us anything, it's how much chemistry, experience, and continuity can matter. Unless you're attracting five-star talent (and it bears mentioning that six of Mizzou's eight freshman signees thus far have been three-stars), you make your living off of year-to-year continuity.
Among other things, this is why I gave Frank Haith a major pass for the frustrating nature of last year's squad. He had to basically craft a new team from scratch, and the fact that he did very well at that (mostly because of transfers) created unreasonably high expectations that his team then failed to meet.
Haith basically had two recruiting classes to build an entire Year 3 squad, and the results have been mixed. Mizzou is still indeed on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but that alone is quite an accomplishment. Some examples:
In 2011, St. John's went 21-12 and surged to its first NCAA Tournament bid in quite a while in Steve Lavin's first season. Eight of the Red Storm's top 10 players on that team were seniors, however, and the Johnnies went 13-19 in Year 2 and 17-16 in Year 3.
In 2012, Kevin Stallings' Vanderbilt squad went 25-11 with a team that featured five seniors among its top seven players. The Commodores went 16-17 last year (they started 10-15 before a late rally) and are 13-10 this year.
Like Missouri, neither St. John's nor Vandy are programs likely to draw tons of five-star talent, so the rebuilding has been slow and relatively unsteady. St. John's had a win percentage of .462 in its two years after the huge class of seniors left and has finally taken a nice step forward in Year 3. Vandy is, to date, standing at 0.518, though the Commodores have been salty at times this year. Mizzou, meanwhile, stands at 40-18 (0.690) since Denmon, English, Ratliffe, etc., left. The Tigers are flawed and frustrating this year, but they're still on the bubble. If or when a Mizzou team can begin to develop continuity and experience again, their moderate success while in transition could hint at a wonderfully high ceiling. (And yes, 'could' is the key word there.)
The question, of course, is whether or not this team is going to be developing any sort of continuity any time soon. Haith's tightrope walk of attempting to immediately even out classes (so as to avoid any sort of all-senior squads at some point in the future) has been more successful than it could have been, but it has left him with more of a tight rope walk. First of all, three of his initial transfers -- Earnest Ross, Jordan Clarkson, and Jabari Brown -- could all be gone after this season. Ross is a senior, and Clarkson and Brown have both seen their draft stock climb to borderline-first-round level. They could both return, but my gut says they're both gone.
That's problematic, but only if the foundation is bad. The attempt to even out the classes still left room for Haith to recruit eight freshmen among the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes. That could have given Mizzou a nice base of experience moving forward; instead, most of these freshmen haven't been any good.
Here's a list of every freshman scholarship player to play for Mizzou since Quin Snyder's first season (1999-00), listed in order of their per-minute Adj. Game Score production. Haith recruits are in bold.
|Johnathan Williams III||6'9||208||Fr.||26.6||8.2||0.31||2013-14|
Since 1999, only five freshmen have had per-minute averages greater than Johnathan Williams III's while playing at least 20 minutes per game: Kareem Rush, Arthur Johnson, Linas Kleiza, Keon Lawrence, and Phil Pressey. Four of those five are among the best Mizzou players of the last 15 years, so that's pretty awesome company. If we lower the threshold to 14 minutes, the company gets even more impressive: Mike Dixon, Marcus Denmon, and Kim English get added to the mix.
Granted, J3 has hit a pretty massive freshman wall of late, and for all we know his average will continue to sink as this year comes to an end. Even so, we'll say he's a keeper.
That's one of eight.
Stefan Jankovic was a defensive liability (to put it kindly). Wes Clark is basically Jason Horton (and with a better demeanor, that might be fine). Ryan Rosburg was basically Steve Moore. And the other four Haith freshmen have been among the six worst freshman performers of the last 15 years. I say "freshman performers" instead of "players" because guys can improve. Leo Lyons went from 0.16 per minute to a vital cog on an Elite Eight team. But Duane John, Spencer Laurie, and Ricky Kreklow all left pretty quickly after posting these dicey averages. So did NWC and Bull last year. Jones' effort and physique, along with the incredibly unreliable performances of upperclassmen Tony Criswell and Keanau Post, have earned him more minutes recently; he has improved, but only a bit. And at the moment, Rector is the only freshman to post a negative per-minute average. Not saying they can't still become decent pieces of a good rotation, and I hope they prove wrong what I'm about to say, but I'm not amazingly optimistic.
So if Clarkson and Brown indeed go pro (and nobody else leaves), here's what the roster looks like heading into Year 4:
Post (Sr. -- 2nd year in system)
Rosburg (Jr. -- 3rd year)
Deuce Bello (Jr.)
Zach Price (Jr.)
J3 (So. -- 2nd)
Clark (So. -- 2nd)
Jones (So. -- 2nd)
Rector (So. -- 2nd)
Cam Biedscheid (So.)
Naamon Wright (Fr.)
Jakeenan Gant (Fr.)
There will be more additions in the spring, either of the freshman or JUCO variety, but two things become certain looking at this list: 1) The talent isn't in any way proven or particularly impressive, and 2) this roster will easily have the second-most continuity of any Haith roster (after the first one). Rosburg will be the first Haith recruit to play a third year for Haith, which is a pretty incredible thing to say entering Haith's fourth year.
Year 5, then, might look something like this:
Rosburg (Sr. -- 4th year)
Bello (Sr. -- 2nd year)
Price (Sr. -- 2nd year)
J3 (Jr. -- 3rd year)
Clark (Jr. -- 3rd year)
Jones (Jr. -- 3rd year)
Rector (Jr. -- 3rd year)
Biedscheid (Jr. -- 2nd year)
Wright (So. -- 2nd year)
Gant (So. -- 2nd year)
Another 2014 recruit (Either So. or Sr. -- 2nd year)
Ronnie Suggs (Fr.)
2015 Signee (Fr. or Jr.)
2015 Signee (Fr. or Jr.)
It's safe to say that continuity has indeed been a serious issue for the last two Haith teams. Some of that is Haith's own fault -- he's the one who chose to attempt the risky "evening classes" method of transfers and whatnot, and he's the one who has failed to sign many impact freshmen -- but he was also dealt a really difficult long-term hand by Anderson.
Even though I'm fairly certain another player will defect at some point -- maybe Rector or one of next year's freshmen leaves, maybe Biedscheid (or Price, or Bello) is just so amazing that he goes pro after one year (doubtful as of now), maybe something else -- it's pretty clear that continuity will cease to become an issue within the next two seasons. What will then become the make-or-break factor for Haith's tenure will be pure, simple talent. That Haith's two best freshmen (Williams, Clark) and his two incoming freshmen for 2014-15 (Wright, Gant) are all four-star guys is encouraging, but his 2-for-8 (maybe 3-for-8 if Rosburg continues to improve) record is atrocious. It must improve. We'll see if it does.
1. Johnathan Williams is one of Mizzou's best freshmen of the last 15 years.
2. Continuity has been a massive issue for Frank Haith over the last two years, and a lot of it is not of his doing.
3. The relevance of sentence No. 2 above ends in the next year or two. Then it's all on Haith.