Seemingly, not much has gone right for Mizzou since they got blown out by Florida in the SEC tournament last spring. Sure, there was momentary joy in watching them scrap and claw, and watching Danny Feldmann dunk, in a win over Davidson in the NIT. But then the Tigers were quickly dispatched by Southern Miss in the next round, Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson declared for the draft, Earnest Ross filed a restraining order against transfer Zach Price after an ugly altercation, Price was kicked off the team, Frank Haith left for Tulsa, and Mike Alden was forced into a fourth coaching search in 16 years.
The coaching change meant that the new staff was still making roster moves up until the beginning of the practice season in the fall, and it showed.
Kim Anderson had what most would consider a successful offseason since taking over the program, but he has had to establish a lot of rules into the winter. And he's been confronted with a myriad of bumps in getting this team and roster ready for competition.
Since he's been hired, here are some of the bumps in the road he has encountered, just as far as having a full roster in concerned:
- Keith Shamburger had to work really hard in taking several classes over the summer in order to graduate and be eligible for the fifth-year transfer, and he was not able to join the team until August. This is bad since he was the clear option for "senior leadership."
- Montaque Gill-Caesar, Missouri's most talented freshmen, reclassified so he could play this year and didn't do so until just before the start of the fall semester in August.
- Johnathan Williams III, Missouri's best player, injured his knee and missed much of the pre-season, even feeling the effects of this knee all the way through the Maui Invitational.
- Torren Jones, a guy many thought could be in the mix to play big minutes, was kicked off the team.
- Jakeenan Gant and D'Angelo Allen got into an off-campus altercation in the pre-season and were suspended from team activities while the legal process was sorted out.
- Cameron Biedscheid, a guy many thought would give Missouri its best scoring option, left/was kicked off the team.
- Gant was held out of the first nine games of the season due to eligibility concerns, which severely stunted his growth as a freshman.
Since then there have been injuries and suspensions that have further affected the flow of the game-to-game roster. Coupled with the complete and utter lack of consistency from just about everyone, save perhaps Keith Shamburger, it's been a bit of a mess that I don't think many predicted.
I thought this team could win eight to 10 games in the league, and they're not even close. They're currently the worst team in the SEC. They are tied with Vanderbilt at the bottom, but Vanderbilt has been mostly competitive during its skid.
I can feel that most of the fan base is frankly just fed up with watching. I felt pretty deflated after the game, myself. I tend not to get too down or up after basketball games, because there are just so many of them, and frankly... it's just sports. But Saturday was hard to watch. I don't expect this team to give up, they really did show a lot of fight against Arkansas and Kentucky. But the seven-game losing streak, in which they've had chances to win games but lost, just has to have mentally worn them down. They nearly gave the game up to LSU, as well.
Mizzou is playing as bad as they’ve played in a while. A bit disheartening to see them struggle after several steps forward.— Sam Snelling (@SamSnellingRMN) January 31, 2015
Turning the page
So where do we go from here? There are 10 games remaining, and KenPom has Missouri favored to win two (home games against Auburn and Mississippi State), but the odds say there will probably be another win in there somewhere, maybe two. There are some winnable home games, so it's not impossible. How do they get there? They're going to have to turn the page.
This team has shown minor levels of resiliency from game to game. For example, the Tigers almost knocked off Arkansas, competed with Kentucky, and won the first half at A&M. The problem is that the inexperience shows up at bad times, and the inexperienced players have also seemingly hit a wall of late.
D'Angelo Allen hasn't made a shot since Auburn. Montaque Gill-Caeser played great against Arkansas but hasn't otherwise since he came back from his back injury. Jakeenan Gant has struggled mightily, not scoring in double figures since his first game and not playing more than 10 minutes in the last three games. Namon Wright has come and gone, and while he gives the Tigers an outside threat, he doesn't play consistent enough defense to warrant more minutes.
Missouri is going to have to hope for continued consistency from JW3, Clark and Shamburger and get minutes from Keanau Post on the inside. This was the recipe against Arkansas, and if they can get that, then get a couple freshmen to contribute closer to what they're capable of, they can win a few games.
No matter what happens the rest of the season, the offseason approach has to be the same. Your core of Clark, JW3, Teki, Wright and Gant is good to go. The freshmen have had an up and down season, but the talent is evident in all three. An offseason spent in the weight room will be important for all of those guys. It remains to be seen what you'll get from Allen; he's shown enough flashes that I think he'll be okay and eventually gain consistency. So there's six to build with.
What to do?
Missouri currently has 3 commits in Kevin Puryear, Cullen VanLeer and Terrence Phillips. They have two seniors leaving and two more open scholarships, leaving one available to give out. I don't think that's going to be the last scholarship given out in the spring, though.
I haven't brought up Tramaine Isabell yet. Isabell was suspended for the Ole Miss game and Coach Anderson was very upfront about why.
Anderson says Isabell's behavior & attitude toward teammates & coaches have been unacceptable— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) January 31, 2015
And again from yesterday:
Kim Anderson says there's no update as of today on freshman guard Tramaine Isabell who sat out Saturday for attitude/behavior issues— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) February 2, 2015
It's easy to conjure rumors about transfers when a coach makes comments about a player being a detriment. If you follow recruiting, you know that Missouri is currently looking at several guards, so I almost expect that they know there is going to be some turnover. I've never been a big fan of speculation about specific players leaving, mostly because anyone can leave for any reason. But the spotlight is on the situation with Isabell. Late-season suspensions, especially when the player wasn't even on the bench during the game, speak volumes about how things are going with the relationship between player and coach.
Regarding other players, for one, Ryan Rosburg isn't going anywhere. Despite his diminished playing time, he's still a central figure for the team. One, he's a Tiger. He grew up cheering for MIzzou, and he's from St. Louis. You don't run a kid off like that -- it's bad optics on a team that's already had a problem in that department. He's also a good student, good citizen, and a great ambassador for the team. Ryan Rosburg is staying at Mizzou as long as he wants to be a Tiger.
Deuce Bello is an interesting case because he's had some academic struggles and has seen the court just 10 minutes per game over 14 games. He doesn't come across as a bad kid or a malcontent. But it's hard to imagine a former four-star player being excited about playing for a coach he didn't commit to and getting 10 minutes a game on a bad team full of players younger than he is. Bello is obviously a great athlete but hasn't been able to translate that into basketball impact. And since he was a transfer, it's not impossible to see him doing exactly what Keith Shamburger did and moving on again after graduating.
A coach's responsibility
This is Kim Anderson's roster and team at the end of spring. He's still working with a makeover effort this year, and sure, he'll still have at least five "Haith players" next season, but after one season and another recruiting class, it's his roster moving forward.
I'm willing to give Coach A a big "Get Out of Jail Free" card this season. It has been atrocious. I think it could have been better, but there was also a lot working against him. He had to take a few guys he might not have otherwise taken. He had to make statements with player behavior. He had to set the tone. By this point, Coach Anderson has shown that he's going to run the program his way, and he's willing to take losses along the way. And again, I'm okay with that.
But this offseason is going to be important because attendance follows wins, and it usually takes a full year to win back crowds. He's going to have to work a lot less on life lessons and more on scoring skills. Next year, the Tigers need to be a bubble team. They need to be competitive and win games and bring crowds back the Mizzou Arena. They need to restore faith in the basketball program.
For the sustainability of Missouri basketball, next season is important because of the talent in the upcoming classes of Missouri recruits. And I'm not just talking about the players from Missouri: The Tigers are legitimately in on four- and five-star players who could be foundational and transformational. One bad season is forgivable, but it can't happen again next season or one Dark Winter will turn into many.