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How to find the hope again after a disappointing Mizzou Hoops loss

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Not all is lost; there’s still a lot of basketball left this season. And this probably won’t be the last time the Tigers have a disappointing loss.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The realization of Missouri falling behind schedule by losing to the North Carolina Central Eagles sets in and hope quickly turned to despair among even some of the most faithful on Monday night. The loss, while painful, still has a chance to be an aberration in the young season as the Tigers will look to rectify the upset tomorrow against Western Kentucky.

It seemed almost implausible as the game unfolded, and with each subsequent miss it never felt like the Tigers were actually going to go down, not until there was about 6 minutes to play when NC Central went up 10. The fever then began to set in and welp...

I don’t want to spend this space rehashing a game from three days ago. If anything I play to try to pick things up a bit. There are still people who have hope, and there are still reasons to hope that things turn around. Let’s see if we can find some together.

Kim Anderson isn’t going to be fired after 6 games even with an ugly loss to North Carolina Central and the knowledge of the last two seasons. For all we know his job may not be at risk at all this season. The Tigers are “346th in experience” as we are so often reminded, and that statistic is important even if being reminded of it is getting annoying.

Missouri is young, and young teams play really well sometimes, and other times they look dreadful. I’m not sure I’ve seen a team look more dreadful than the other night, but here we are.

There is one SEC team below them in experience: Mississippi State... a team that boasts a more talented roster from the perspective of recruiting but one who has struggled every bit as much as Missouri this season.

The Bulldogs have played erratic all season, getting blasted by Central Florida and losing handily to Lehigh, while barely squeaking by Norfolk State and Northwestern State. Last night they laid wood to Oregon State (another program struggling with losses to Lamar, Fresno St and Tulsa).

The Bulldogs have struggled, but the fans have faith because Ben Howland is only in his second year and he’s landing several big time recruits so far. Kim Anderson is another year advanced, and he’s signed some good players, but nobody like Howland who has landed eight recruits ranked higher than Missouri’s highest ranked player (K.J. Walton at #131).

Each player on the current Missouri roster was hand picked by this staff with the sole purpose of restoring Mizzou basketball. In the paraphrased words of the illustrious Marco Rubio: “Let us dispel this myth that Kim Anderson doesn’t know what he is doing, he knows exactly what he is doing.”

And he does. We may disagree with aspects of his approach, but the reality is Anderson has a plan and is keenly aware of what he needs to do to get where he wants to go. Whether or not he gets there is certainly up for debate, and you can also question his ability to get there as well. But he knows what he’s trying to do.

As of right now, even at the very least, Anderson has stabilized the bare foundation of the program. They are out from under NCAA sanctions (and the fraud accusations are perhaps unlikely to yield any real penalties if the worst is true and the NCAA holds precedent), and are close to being out from under the cloud of the APR issues of Frank Haith’s last season and Kim Anderson’s first one.

Going into next season all 13 scholarships will be able to be filled. So without NCAA sanctions over the head of the program and with a stable full of scholar shipped players, Mizzou has the right foundation to move forward and start the resurrection process.

There isn’t enough talent for this roster to win big right now. That’s the bad news. They can improve, they can be better, they can win more than we expect, but they are only going to improve so much from here until the end of the season. There simply isn’t enough offense and skill for this team to have a middle of the pack finish in the SEC.

The goal is improvement. A current rating of 146 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings means the team is behind schedule for where they’d like to be, but still nearly 20 spots ahead of where they started after six games. There are going to be more setbacks this season as young players work to figure out how to win at this level.

Even the coaches have to learn that as well. The big question looming for not only the new AD, but for all of us, is how do we measure the progress?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Whether he likes it or not, Anderson does bear the brunt for much of the lack of success at Mizzou over the previous two years. They can try to pass blame for inheriting a bad situation but the sheer amount of losses has been unprecedented in the history of the program and has left many with a sense of apathy.

There is a path forward, however.

We need to see and feel the excitement of games like Xavier more often. I want to see Frankie Hughes find consistency, even if that means passing up more shots he feels he needs to take. I want to see KJ Walton figure out something in between taking a three-pointer and hurtling himself at the rim. I want Terrence Phillips to facilitate the offense more than have to generate it himself. I really want Kevin Puryear to get consistent touches on the block, even if it means he’s just kicking the ball back out as he draws defenses inside. More than anything I want this:

Cullen VanLeer is very clearly the hot rod player amongst those who play the most meaningful minutes. VanLeer is playing nearly 83% of his available minutes, but with incredibly limited production. His shooting percentages have improved over last season, but only slightly. He’s shooting 40% from 2FG and 32.3% from 3FG, and has doubled most of his other production but only over doubling his minutes. Not ideal.

The staff obviously trusts VanLeer, and he may be the ultimate sink-or-swim player on this roster for Anderson. Kim believes in Cullen, and he’s going to keep starting him and playing him more minutes than anyone else. And much like Anderson, we want for Cullen to succeed. We want to see those shots drop, because he can help open up driving lanes for Phillips, Walton and Hughes.

So the evidence to date hasn’t shown us that any of this is working, right? But, while still holding on to skepticism, and while still firmly planted in reality, I’m hopeful we’ll see the gears continue to turn and see this team start to turn the corner.

Another opportunity presents itself in the form of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday at 2 pm.