What makes Anderson and his players confident of their progress is that they’ve been more competitive over the past three games against what seems like stiffer competition. They hung between four and 11 points throughout the second half of a nine-point loss at South Carolina — one of the SEC’s three ranked teams — fell by three at home against Georgia — the same team that waxed them by 18 points in Athens, Ga., to open SEC play — and led then-No. 10 Texas A&M with less than 15 minutes remaining in the second half.
Of course, prolonged scoring droughts doomed the Tigers in all three contests as they have throughout the season.
"I think our guys have competed," Anderson said. "If we could figure out a way to quit giving the other team like 5-10 minutes of free ball where we can’t score and they get to score, the games I think would be even closer than they have been. … We have to learn how to eliminate that."
On the Big Show on Monday, I spun myself into believing that maybe Mizzou has shown improvement of late.
Basically, in Mizzou's last eight games, the Tigers have played opponents they were projected to beat (UAPB, Savannah State, Auburn) and pummeled all three by far more significant margins than expected. They've also taken on good road opponents (South Carolina, Texas A&M) and played them closer than projected. They basically hit the projected mark against Georgia at home, and they came nowhere close to projections at Georgia or, of course, at home against Arkansas.
If you squint, that's improvement. Five times exceeding projections, one time hitting them, two times not. But that's not exactly the kind of "improvement" you really aim for. After tonight, Mizzou hosts Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the two worst (per KenPom) opponents left on the schedule. They're projected to lose both games by one point. That would be a pretty good pair of games for exceeding projections again.
"Probably an ideal number for me would be eight — eight or nine," he said Monday. "But that doesn’t mean Tramaine and D.A., that doesn’t mean they won’t play Wednesday" at Kentucky. "It just depends on the matchups and the game and how practice goes the next couple of days."
One reason Anderson was reluctant to shorten the rotation was he was getting production — albeit not consistently — from all 11 of his scholarship players.
He’s had a different problem in Southeastern Conference play because so many of the Tigers have struggled, particularly his four freshmen — Kevin Puryear, Terrence Phillips, K.J. Walton and Cullen VanLeer. They have hit the "freshman wall" at varying speeds.
"Did we play at Kentucky last year?" he said this week, joking. "You sure? You better check that?"
After a 49-point maiming, maybe it’s better to laugh than cry.
What else can the Tigers do?
"Bury it, for the most part," senior forward Ryan Rosburg said, "but use it as an example of what can happen if we don’t play poised and under control. We just played into the environment there and got stomped."
By the way:
The transitive property is infallible.