It is an understatement to say that Mizzou fans don’t think back on the Frank Haith era with much fondness.
After beginning his Tiger career with 30 wins in 34 games, he wasn't able to prevent his team from slipping on a banana peel in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and with the talent he seemed to have at his disposal, going 46-23 over the next two years, with another quick NCAA exit and an NIT appearance, was lackluster.
Haith's roster management skills were really crisis management skills, and when he left for Tulsa after unsuccessfully pursuing a contract extension, he left his successor with an awkward roster an impending NCAA investigation.
Three years after he left, Mizzou fans can't quite agree on the fault he shares for the Tigers' current struggles. TV announcers sympathetic to Kim Anderson (who is very, very easy to be sympathetic for) will now tell you that Anderson had to basically burn down the roster and start over. That's not exactly true. But whether you think Haith is to blame for most or some of the overwhelmed roster and empty arena that we are dealing with today, it doesn't really matter. That's not what we're here to talk about today.
Today, we're here to talk about that time Haith nearly fought Mike Anderson at Mizzou Arena.
Haith's second Missouri team, the 2012-13 squad, is one of the most what-if laden in the history of a school drowning in what-ifs.
Mizzou's biggest issues that season were a lack of a backup point guard and the need for one more outside shooter. What if Mike Dixon doesn't act like a creep and get kicked out of school, leaving (as we wrote approximately 634 times that season) a Mike Dixon-sized hole in the lineup?
The Tigers began the season 12-2 with wins over Illinois, VCU, and decent Bucknell and Alabama teams. Their only losses at that point were to eventual national champion Louisville and to UCLA in a road classic. Laurence Bowers was averaging 19 points per game over his previous eight contests, but he tweaked his knee. He missed five games and averaged only 12 points per game following his return. From 12-2, Mizzou finished just 11-9. What if Bowers stays healthy?
By the time Arkansas came to town on March 5, Mizzou's goals had already been tamped down a bit. The Tigers were still dangerous, but after playing like a potential top-four seed in November and December, they were simply hoping to avoid the 8-9 game in the first round of the NCAAs. But goals and motivation weren't an issue that night at Mizzou Arena -- only revenge mattered.
Mike Anderson made his first appearance in Columbia since his departure two years earlier. It led to Kim English's famous "reconcile by winning" moment, and to date Mizzou had been doing a pretty good job of that. At that point, Haith was still 51-13 since taking over. Under Anderson, meanwhile, Arkansas was just 36-25. Anderson's Razorbacks had pulled off a controversial two-point win over Missouri in Fayetteville about three weeks earlier, and the motivation cup overflowed when Arkansas came to town.
Arkansas held steady for a little while. When a Phil Pressey turnover led to a Hunter Mickelson layup with 13:02 left, the score was just 14-11 Mizzou. It was only 21-15 three minutes later. But Mizzou went on a 27-7 run to finish the first half, then uncorked a 15-4 knockout run in the second.
The Tigers cruised, 93-63, behind 23 points from Jabari Brown and Bowers' last great performance in a Tiger uniform (24 points on 10-for-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, two blocks). But most noteworthy of all was what happened during a break in the first half.
In his most passionate moment the Missouri coaching staff had to hold Haith back as he seemingly shouted angry words over at Mike Anderson across the court during a timeout.
Both coaches later said it was because of a miscommunication, and that they sorted it out after the game.
"I thought it was a miscommunication," Haith said. "I was emotional for my team, and I was encouraging my team, and he thought I was saying something else. But I was only talking to my team."
Senior forward Alex Oriakhi welcomed Haith's attitude but was also surprised by it.
"Coach is an emotional guy," Oriakhi said. "I definitely think we feed off that. I looked at him on the side, and I didn't really recognize him. That's the most emotional I've ever seen him."
By halftime, Haith had calmed himself down, and with his tight-fitting jacket back on he stood still on the sideline for most of the second half. The tie stayed on as well.
Haith might have cooled off, but his players stayed aggressive.
It seemed Haith’s passion fed directly into his team’s high-level play. It also seemed like Mizzou would never again lose to a Mike Anderson team, at least not in Columbia. The next year, in fact, the Tigers swept the Hogs, winning by four in Fayetteville and by one in Columbia.
The momentum wouldn’t last. Obviously. Mizzou lost three of its last four games in 2013, first falling squarely into the 8-9 game it wanted to avoid, then getting smoked by Colorado State in said game. The next year, a 12-1 start begat an 11-11 finish, and Haith packed his bags for Tulsa.
Kim Anderson, by the way: 0-4 against Anderson. The Tigers lost 94-61 to the Hogs at home last season.
Mizzou and Arkansas tip off tonight in Fayetteville, and it’s probably not going to go well. But regardless of what may have followed, we’ll always have March 5, 2013. It’s hard to have an evening of basketball more innately satisfying than that one.