In January, I explored some things we all were looking to see from the basketball program during the 2016 calendar year. To say that the 2015-16 season ended as we'd hoped wouldn't be true true for everyone involved. The Tigers started 2016 2-1, with home wins over Savannah State and Auburn and a road loss to Georgia, things weren't looking all too bad until the Razorbacks came to town and embarrassed the Tigers on their home court. Following one of the worst home losses in school history, Missouri released a list of violations uncovered by a recent NCAA investigation, along with a series of self imposed sanctions.
After the NCAA violations release, Missouri proceeded to lose eight straight games. Then they kicked Wes Clark off the team for some kind of academic agreement that wasn't followed, won a few games against South Carolina and Tennessee (both at home), went 0-5 down the stretch of the season, and lost D'Angelo Allen to transfer before the end of the season. There was no SEC tournament berth as one of the self imposed sanctions, so after a home loss to Florida, the season came to a lackluster end.
Once the play wrapped up, Mack Rhoades apparently checked out the possibility of making a change at the head coach, but ultimately decided to give Kim Anderson another season to prove his plan is working. Part of the plan apparently included letting Tramaine Isabell and Namon Wright walk away from the program. To finish off the exodus, Jakeenan Gant, the last remaining member who had any connection to the Frank Haith era, asked for his release to transfer, which completed the full turnover of any and all connections to Frank Haith.
If you were hoping to get some promise from the recruiting in the spring, pretty much everything went against the Tigers with a few exceptions. The Tigers signed Frankie Hughes, the high school teammate of Willie Jackson, and JUCO guard Jordan Geist to firm up their backcourt. While efforts to shore up their front court have largely failed, mostly thanks to UNLV, although they're still on the hunt for another big.
So have we seen the things we wanted to see from this program?
Did Wes Clark take ownership?
Clark took ownership right off the roster.
Did the Sophomores step up?
Again, they ALL left the roster, for different reasons, but still... they're gone.
Did Kim Anderson keep his job?
Yes, but not for the reasons we'd hoped. What we wanted to see was KA earn the job rather than be awarded a third season. We wanted to see the team come together and turn a corner. To this point, there's been no real evidence he and his staff can get this thing turned around. The optimists hang onto the idea of the freshman (soon to be sophomore) class as evidence, but on a 3-15 conference team like Missouri, somebody has to play the minutes and score some points. Kevin Puryear, Terrence Phillips and K.J. Walton all showed flashes of being able to be reliable players, but did they show enough to be considered the nucleus of an NCAA tournament team? Does Frankie Hughes, Willie Jackson and Mitchell Smith complete that nucleus? The roster certainly doesn't have the look of a tournament team this season, and making it to .500 would be something of an accomplishment with what we've seen over the last two years.
If anything the roster turnover this offseason have created more questions than answers when it comes to the ultimate question of Kim Anderson's job status following this next season. And the only answer is to win more games.
Player Development, Strength & Conditioning
Anyone hoping for some continuity going into next season is going to have to wait another year to get it.
- 2016 (Anderson): 6 newcomers (with a possibility of a 7th)
- 2015 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
- 2014 (Anderson): 6 newcomers
- 2013 (Haith): 8 newcomers
- 2012 (Haith): 8 newcomers
- 2011 (Haith): 3 newcomers
2016-17 could have been the senior years for Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark, Torren Jones and Shane Rector, the junior years of Namon Wright, Jakeenan Gant and Montaque Gill-Caesar, which obviously didn't happen as all seven left the program for various reasons. Any stability seeking reasons for bringing in Kim Anderson have yet to materialize as twelve players have left the roster prior to exhausting their eligibility since Anderson took over. If the Tigers are somehow able to turn the tide this season, and Anderson is retained for year 4 of his 5 year contract, Mizzou would actually have a chance to stop, or at the least, slow this trend. They aren't going to slow the trend without a big summer with the guys they have on campus.
Part of the project of the summer is revamping players bodies to prepare them to compete in the ultra-athletic SEC, something the Tigers haven't been able to do going 6-31 against SEC competition under Kim Anderson. Hoping to change that, Anderson fired Strength and Conditioning Coach Matt Herring in favor of the younger more energetic, and far less experienced, Nick Michael. The strength coach is a guy who spends more time with the players than anyone, so it's a risk for Anderson to give Michael a shot with so much on the line. But of all the risks Anderson could take, this one makes the most sense. They weren't going to win any recruiting battles this summer that were going to win them any games this winter, so changing an assistant coach wouldn't accomplish enough to make a difference this season. But the strength coach might have an impact big enough to put the team over the hump next season, at least over the hump enough to get Kim to year 4.
The rest is to be written...
One thing to remember for this program going forward is there is nothing written in stone. We all have assumptions or hopes for where this is going to go, but the only people who can control outcomes are the players and coaches. With six months left before the Tigers play a game, there is only speculation for what they are going to do in the 2016-17 season. I'm sure I'll provide plenty of speculation in the meantime, but for now we'll let the thought of a blank slate sink in. The chances Missouri wins big recruiting battles this summer aren't great but they are there. Guys like Jordan Goodwin or Jeremiah Tilmon could give the Tiger faithful something to get excited about, and there is a host of other players that could generate a little excitement even without being Goodwin or Tilmon. Regardless of who Missouri inks to a letter of intent, it won't matter if Mizzou scrapes by at .500 in the non-conference and gets upended with another horrible SEC record.
We're almost halfway through 2016 and the results haven't been great. The Tigers have the remaining seven months of the year to change the course of the program, or continue on the dead end path they've been on for the last 25 months under Anderson. The degree of blame Anderson gets for where things are at this stage are largely left up to the individual viewpoint, but there is no mistake the these next seven months are going to be enormously important and will likely determine how much work I'm going to have to do next spring.