clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Once again, 3-point defense is drastically holding Missouri back

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

"Bama is fifth in the conference in 3PA/FGA, which means the Tide take a lot of 3-pointers. They don't make a ton, but we know the story with 3s -- they could just randomly start falling."

-- Alabama preview

Oh, hey look. Another team saw 3s randomly start falling against Missouri. Amazing what happens when you allow opponents to shoot more than 20 3-pointer per game against you; sometimes they go in, and there's nothing you can do about it.

When Ken Pomeroy posted a couple of years ago about the randomness of 3-pointers, and how defenses shouldn't be judged by how many their opponents make, but how many they take, I wasn't sold. It's not that I disagreed, it's just that it wasn't a familiar concept, and it took a while for me to grasp it. The 2013-14 season, however, has crystallized the concept rather well. I didn't need for it to, but it has.

Mizzou was 241st in 3PA/FGA defense last year; the Tigers are now 316th this year. In conference play, an incredible 40 percent of opponents FG attempts have been 3-pointers. Now, 3-pointers are pretty hard, and they don't always fall; but when they do, Mizzou loses.

Opponents have shot better than Missouri from 3-point range six times in 14 conference games. Two of those games were closer-than-expected wins (at Auburn, Arkansas), one was a tight home loss that negated a heroic offensive effort from Jabari Brown (Kentucky), and three were incredibly frustrating road losses (Vandy, Ole Miss, Alabama). When you allow your opponents to take a 3-pointer every two minutes, your game is going to be decided by whether they go in. They don't always go in -- Vandy and Tennessee made just 10 of 40 in the two games before Bama, and even today Missouri is still just 66th in 3PT% allowed -- but when they do, nothing else matters.

Yep. It's boring, really. College basketball is 3-pointers and whistles, basically. There are 10-15 teams with most of the talent, and the others just shoot 3-pointers or try to get to the line. I've become pretty disenchanted with college basketball this year, and it only partially has to do with Mizzou. This just isn't very fun to watch. It's even less fun when your team is an absolute horror show when it comes to preventing teams from shooting 3s.

I like a lot about Frank Haith. As I've written before, I think any coach would have broken the rules (to whatever extent he actually did) at Miami with Nevin Shapiro pulling so many strings. I think that was unavoidable. I like his on-court demeanor, I like the way he treats his players -- a) he isn't afraid to call them out in the press, but b) they all love him when they leave anyway -- and I like the way he represents himself in both press and public. I think he's a solid player development guy, which will become more prominent if he can find a freshman class that actually sticks and develops a little bit of continuity from year to year.

When Haith and Gary Pinkel speak kindly about each other, you can tell they mean it. And hey, he's a hell of an offensive coach. With a completely different cast of characters over the last three years, Missouri has ranked first, 18th, and 18th in Pomeroy's offensive efficiency numbers. Even last night, the Tigers still averaged 1.15 points per possession, which should win almost any basketball game. And the rebounding intensity was good as well; Haith teams have proven to be high-effort on the offensive glass, and they are certainly built to take advantage of the new foul enforcement. (Well, back when the "new foul enforcement" was a thing, anyway.)

No matter who's in the backcourt -- short or tall, fast or slow, aggressive or passive -- Missouri's perimeter defense is just atrocious and seems to be getting worse.

In three years, Frank Haith has pulled off one magnificent coaching job (2011-12), one solid coaching job (2012-13), and one mediocre coaching job (2013-14). That's a solid 3.0 GPA, not honors-worthy but far from fireable. And no, no matter how much Internet rage you show, he's not getting fired this year. Not even remotely close. But until he can put together a defensive style that isn't completely and totally hostage to the 3-ball (more so than in college basketball as a whole, that is), his tenure is eventually going to be either done in or drastically held back. There's just no way around that. No matter who's in the backcourt -- short or tall, fast or slow, aggressive or passive -- Missouri's perimeter defense is just atrocious and seems to be getting worse. Even in 2011-12, when Missouri ranked only 98th in 3PA/FGA Allowed, that was still worse than almost any other category. Opponents had size advantages on the interior with Mizzou's four-guard lineup and still found decent looks from 3-point range over 30 percent of the time.

This is an issue, first of talent. For all the talent of players like Phil Pressey or Jabari Brown, defense is not a strong suit. With Pressey, he was too much of a risk-taker (which certainly paid off at times) and was too short to prevent many good looks. With Brown, the defensive instincts just aren't there. He has shown defensive improvement in 2013-14, but it's come in fits and starts. It certainly didn't exist last night.

With elite defensive talent, Haith's defensive principles could work just fine. You can double every post player, then hurry back to the 3-point line if you've got J.T. Tiller in the backcourt. You can more effectively defend and communicate through high picks when you've got Zaire Taylor or Julian Winfield. But Haith seems to recruit offense first, and really good offensive players don't always have the defensive instincts necessary to do these things effectively, especially with the amount of unfamiliarity these huge bouts of roster turnover have produced.

(Of course, with better defensive talent could come an offensive drop-off, which perhaps says more about the level of talent overall. But we've discussed that before.)

Whatever the primary cause of these issues might be -- defensive talent, scheme, practice time, whatever -- they are holding Missouri back and will continue to do so. You can win a lot of games as an offense-heavy coach, and hey, with the right confluence of offensive talent and senior leadership, you can even earn a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Haith did that not very long ago. But while these random "bombs away" games are common throughout college basketball, they will continue to be even more common with Missouri. And it probably goes without saying that postseason trips likely won't survive too many "bombs away" opportunities without the bombs finding their target.

By the way? If the tournament selection show were today, Mizzou would still be in. Hope you got all of your "When do NIT tickets go on sale?" jokes out of the way last night because they're not in the NIT just yet.

(If they lose at Georgia, on the other hand? Well, let's not go there right now.)