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State of Mizzou Basketball: What to do about the defense?

CBonerfied, dcrockett17, HHKB Chris and Belegcam on Mizzou's identity under Frank Haith, team defense, and where to go from here.

CBonerfied: I know DC and I are on the same page about how overly complicated the defensive schemes were for these personnel.

dcrockett17: I struggle with short- vs. Long-term on that issue. If you believe in switching defenses (and I really don't) then Haith is doing it right. Put the system in and let the kids grow into it. Makes sense.

On the other hand, Haith has never really fielded a good defensive team.

CBonerfied: I would prefer one trademark system, something that becomes so ingrained in the kids that they are teaching the freshmen when they are upperclassmen.

It seems as if the staff has adjusted their defensive plan based on personnel, which is not a bad thing at all. In Haith's first year, any defensive success was predicated on turnovers (forced in the half court instead of full court press) and not fouling people. In Haith's "best" defensive year, we had Oriakhi and Bowers challenging the rim, but didn't force any turnovers. This year's team was mediocre in three of the four factors and awful in one (forcing turnovers).

About the only defensive constant of the last three years is that Haith teams try not to foul, which brings up a defensive philosophy debate: aggressive on-ball defense and try to go for turnovers, or a more conservative defense similar to what we have seen thus far under Haith (with some significant tweaks, obviously)?

HHKB Chris: I agree with both dcrockett and CBonerfied, having a defensive philosophy that you can teach from day one that becomes the way the team plays and as CB points out getting the upper classmen teaching the young kids would be ideal.

What we've seen from Haith over these three years is that he is constantly willing to mold his philosophy on offense and defense to his players, which leads many to wonder if he is recruiting a type of player or just going out there and trying to get the best player he can. I have no idea since this recruiting class is the first to stick around.

Haith wants athletic size that can clog the post, guard the rim and be fed down low when on the offensive side of the ball. Which would lead to an inside-outside game that could benefit a team that had good outside shooting. But the inside guys couldn't get the job done.

What I got from him after the last class was that he wants athletic size that can clog the post, guard the rim and be fed down low when on the offensive side of the ball. Which would lead to an inside-outside game that could benefit a team that had good outside shooting. And this would have been great this year with Ross and Jabari's ability to hit the three, but the inside guys couldn't get the job done.

Gant kind of fits that mold but at 6'8 and 210 I'm thinking he could have a similar year to what JW3 did this year, if he spends any time in the post.

But to the original question, I would say that with the players we know we have coming back next year, I don't know that an overly aggressive defense is going to benefit this current group of players, though to be fair I haven't really seen much tape (so to speak) on Bello, Price and Biedscheid who all seem to fit the mold of long skinny bigger men who can play the stretch 3. This group seems better suited to play in a matchup zone than anything else, which seemed to work at times during the early non con season but then became less effective once we got into SEC play...

dcrockett17: All things equal, I'm partial to a conservative defensive philosophy. I want to see a defense do three things: (1) deny dribble penetration, (2) hedge with bigs on pick-and-roll (that's more valuable than shot blocking), and (3) provide good rotational help that invites contested twos. There are a million different ways to configure a defense to do those three things.

"About the only defensive constant of the last three years is that Haith teams try not to foul, which brings up a defensive philosophy debate: aggressive on-ball defense and try to go for turnovers, or a more conservative defense similar to what we have seen thus far under Haith (with some significant tweaks, obviously)?"

Now, I see nothing wrong with a turnover-fueled approach. Let me be clear about that. I just think there are fewer ways to implement a turnover-fueled defense effectively. I think you have to go "all-in" and implement a "40 minutes..." (or similar) kind of style. That requires recruiting a specific kind of personnel. It's not for every kid.


Since most coaches are going to be conservative, I think you have to further subdivide them. I'd subdivide them into a "skills emphasis" category vs a "strategy emphasis" category. The former emphasizes player development (e.g., this is the kind of footwork we want our bigs to use when hedging on the pick and roll or protecting the defensive boards). The latter emphasizes scheme development (e.g., we switch from 2-3 to 1-3-1 zones throughout the game and out of time outs).

If we are talking ideal types I'd put Izzo and in the skills camp and Coach K in the strategy camp.

Now on THAT question, I much prefer a skills emphasis to a strategy emphasis.

Maybe it's my selective perception, but it seems to me that coaches from that "traditional" ACC/North Carolina-centric coaching tree tend to be strategy guys. In the main (I may be stereotyping here), those guys are trying to win on offense with a "good enough" defense.

CBonerfied: I agree with the conservative approach. The holes in a Fastest 40 system became apparent at the end of Anderson's tenure, and the variations in performance are way too vast for my preference, and my sanity. And I agree again, based on your analysis above, that I would prefer a skills approach over a strategy approach (which is the camp that Haith seems to fit into).

At the risk of being a broken record--check my posts in game threads or Study Halls--I would LOVE to see a pack-line defensive approach similar to what Virginia and Arizona are implementing with HUGE success. It's technically a man-to-man defense, but it is predicated on precise positioning and ball awareness at all times. The UVA team is unfairly labeled as a "slow down" team, which is a point that Len Elmore was correctly nailing on during their game last night. What actually happens is that UVA makes the opponent work for everything, they are always in position to simultaneously challenge their man, help, AND rebound, the players are taught well (and clearly have defensive instincts), and they have a horde of 6'4" to 6'8" players who are not easy to physically overwhelm. (Sorry, DC, I know how you feel about the Bennetts.) Arizona does a lot of this same stuff--Sean Miller is a pack-line guy--only even better than UVA does it. In the end, I want to see well-coached halfcourt defense where players know where they need to be--and they cannot know where they need to be if the defense is constantly changing out there.

Chris hit on one of my biggest worries about Frank Haith--that he is simply trying to gather highly regarded talent without thinking how they fit into both the roster he currently has and the roster he will have a year or two down the line.

If I may reference our football team here, Frank Haith would benefit with a sit-down with Coach Pinkel. Gary's become a master at identifying the skills he wants at each position on the field and finding players who can grow into their roles by refining those skills over time. The football team has a plan on the recruiting path, which I cannot say the same for the basketball team. It goes into the "MOAR STARZ" debate quite a bit, but it doesn't need to. Pick a basic system on each side of the ball, note the skills required at each position to make it work, take the lumps associated with implementing it for a year or so, and build it up. I am pretty sure that Mizzou's best basketball team of the last decade had not a one top 100 recruit--Anderson found the perfect mixture of players with the right skills for his system. It would be nice if Haith shows a similar approach going forward.

HHKB Chris: To Casey's last point, if this hasn't happened in Frank's career to this point it probably won't.

When you look at the top teams in the best defensive teams category (opponents ppg) pretty much everyone there is an NCAA team or a team that made the NIT and played pretty well there to date.

Now this obviously doesn't take into account that you need to score points on the offensive side of things, which it seems is where Frank's teams excel.

As boring as a Syracuse, Ohio State or Wisconsin seemingly are to watch, they're in the NCAA tournament every year, and the only thing holding them back is their scoring abilities. With the athletes we have coming in next year, big long guys who presumably should be relatively quick, a pack line defense would seem to be ideal as it could hide some of our defensive issues (over rotation to the ball, lack of ball awareness and getting beaten in the post) while hopefully allowing some of our taller guards to at least get a hand in the face of the invariable three point shot, instead of whatever we've been doing which appears to be a lot of running around the perimeter and over committing to any player who slashes to the basket.

As I was not really paying attention at the time, did Norm or Snyder have any tendencies on defense? Nothing really stands out in my memory, but I only really saw Norm's last three years at Mizzou...

Belegcam: Not sure that I can add much here, as I mostly agree with what you guys have said already. I'm really not an Xs and Os guy, so I operate mostly on feel, but it's pretty obvious to even me that Haith's defenses to date haven't felt like good defenses. One of the downsides of the "Transferpalooza" strategy that Haith appears to be sticking to is that you don't get a lot of continuity from year to year. On offense, this is not a huge problem, as you can simply adapt to your roster's skills, but on defense you tend to run into big problems, seeing as defense is so predicated on having the right instincts.

I've hit on this issue before, but the thing with transfers is that just having transfers doesn't really work. The teams that have had the most success with transfers have used them to add on to an existing core of guys who have been there for years. From this standpoint, it's very worrisome to me that Haith seems to be having trouble building that core. This team doesn't just not have 4 and 5 year guys, it's severely lacking in anybody with more than 2 years experience in the program (There's Ross and Feldmann, and that's it.) Next year, in the worst-case scenario of Brown and Clarkson going pro, there would be Feldmann, Rosburg, and Corey Haith. Three guys, two of which barely play. That's a serious issue for me, and it really keeps you from building a strong defensive identity, because the guys who would be teaching the new guys the ropes just aren't there.

I would also like to reinforce Chris's point with respect to defensive-minded teams. Florida is another good example of this. Their offense comes and goes, but they are never going to let you run away and hide with a lead, and when their shooting comes back, they'll chase you down.

So yeah, in short, I'd really like to see some sort of consistent, cohesive defensive philosophy out of this team. What it is, exactly, doesn't really matter to me (and I'm not particularly qualified to say what it should be), but you need something there, or you won't be a consistently winning team.

dcrockett17: See, I think Haith has picked a fairly identifiable "type" for his system (i.e., dynamic guards and all-around bigs that put a little bit in each column). His Miami teams led by McClintock and Jimmy Graham were similarly structured. The ideal Haith squad is the upperclassmen-dominated team that Jim Larrañaga kept in the top 10 for most of 2012-13 and took to the Sweet 16. Three dynamic wings. Two useful, but nothing special bigs. I see pretty clear parallels to that at Mizzou. He's just missed on some talent, especially in that first class. Knew things would be tough with that group, but ychhhh. That was a blow, considering that Webster-Chan and Jankovich looked like really good gets at the time.

CBonerfied: If that is the case--and you are definitely onto something--the guys who fit his type are not being taught successful defensive skills. This has been a career-spanning issue with him.

The guys who fit his type are not being taught successful defensive skills. This has been a career-spanning issue with him.

I'll up the ante a bit: 1. What do you all, as fans, want to see next year to assure you that Frank Haith "is" Mizzou basketball? 2. If you were Mike Alden, what would you tell Frank Haith now that the season is over?

For me, the answer to 1 is that I want to see a team whose focus doesn't lapse so frequently on the defensive end, challenges/prevents perimeter shots better, and one that plays with flow and movement on offense. So much of next year is TBD, especially regarding Jabari and Jordan, so I think it might be silly to prescribe a win-loss expectation at this time.

In terms of 2, I would have a one-on-one with him where he described his vision of the next two years. I'd give him quantifiable and achievable goals for improvement (top 100 tempo free defense next year, top 60 the year after that) and give my honest opinion of his shortcomings thus far. Bring Norm into the conversation as a consultant or something; at the end of the day, I REALLY think Haith needs to do a full-scale self-evaluation of his defensive philosophy. It hasn't worked. It needs to work by any means necessary.

HHKB Chris: What do I want? To point #1, it's going to depend on if Jabari or Jordan come back. If they both come back, NCAA tournament berth, and a real one, not the play in game they call round 1 and advancement to at least the weekend. If one or the other comes back, the same but maybe a good game and not a loss, and progress from the sophomores and freshman. Also that these players stick around and we are relying on transfers less as the backbone of the team but as complimentary pieces to take the team over the top, like Ratliffe and AO.

To point #2, I'm not sure Alden gets into that great a detail conversation but if he does, a real philosophical conversation about the direction of the program would be good, include Norm or not, that doesn't do as much for me as I am not sure what he could add to the conversation and it could be awkward since he doesn't have a specific job in the AD.

dcrockett17: 1. What I want as a fan -- I want to see player development; guys just need to get better. That mostly happens in the off-season. If Brown and/or Clarkson return I want to see them add something to their games. Same with the rest of the kids. If I were Haith here are the 1-2 lines I'd give each guy in exit interviews.

Brown: Go forward with my blessing and this advice. I love that you're not "just" a 3pt specialist BUT that shot must become more reliable. You're athletic enough to play in the league, but not enough to play a drive-oriented game. Without a reliable 3pt shot that your opponent respects, all you can be is Calbert Cheaney. Don't be Calbert Cheaney.

Clarkson: Your NBA future is at the point. You can take your chances on the draft, but you could benefit more than anyone from coming back to work on your left hand, work on using your quickness to make others better, and developing a reliable jumper. You can go from a maybe 2nd rounder to the late lottery.

J3: In lieu of locking you in the weight room with a summer's supply of protein shakes like I started to do, maybe we can find an overseas travel team for you to play on instead? Does they allow SEC players on those teams?

Rosburg: I want to see you take off the bad weight and add more muscle onto a solid frame. A 15-18 foot jump shot would be TRANSFORMATIVE for you and for this team.

Jones & Post: Please develop any basketball related skills. Any at all, really.

All four bigs: Footwork, footwork, footwork.

Clark & Rector: I try to give kids a lot of rope to make their mistakes and to grow. You've used up your rope. Re-dedicate or find another place to play. You let the whole team down.

Feldmann: There's still room on this thing if you're interested in taking a big step forward.

In-coming class: No job is safe. No player is sacred. If you ball you will play.

2. What Alden should say to Haith -- Nothing philosophical. I generally feel like the only things an AD should talk about to a coach that's "his guy" after a disappointing season are grades, recruiting/development, and scandal (if necessary). I don't think you give people ultimatums at this level. Either move in another direction or don't.

Alden knew he was hiring an offensive guy. An ideal Haith team will look a lot more like Duke (#1 Adj O/#115 Adj D) has the past several seasons than San Diego State (#104 Adj O/#7 Adj D). As raggedy as Mizzou looked on offense this year it still ended up ranked #32 in KenPom. Think about that. Missouri played two- or two-and-a-half on five most nights and still ended up one-tenth of a point outside the top 30 on offense--better than Syracuse, Dayton, North Carolina, or Harvard. Haith gets buckets. He's done it with a precision passing offense. He's done it with a clear-out oriented dribble drive offense. Obviously, the defense must improve but it's probably going to some just based on players maturing.

If I were Alden my basketball questions would be all about summer development. How will guys who did little but take things off the table last season become contributors? And what does the incoming class look like?