Haith's second year a disappointment

Sports Commentary

Wait until next year.

With 26 NCAA Tournament appearances and no Final Fours, it’s a phrase Missouri basketball fans know all too well.

After this year’s underwhelming season and no-show in the NCAA Tournament, the phrase has popped up again.

Thanks to frustration from three straight first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament, and only one NCAA Tournament win in four years, Missouri fans took to social media following Thursday’s loss to Colorado State, lashing out hard at a team that many thought would win the Southeastern Conference.

The question is out there. Has Missouri taken steps back since reaching the Elite Eight in 2009?

The answer to that question may very well lie in what happens next year, Year No. 3 of Missouri coach Frank Haith’s tenure.

I am a firm believer a coach should not be judged on what happens in his first two seasons. It takes time to get the program going, bring in your own personnel and develop your own style of basketball.

Haith did an extraordinary job in his first year of getting a jaded team to buy into what he believed in. He took a team that tanked the previous season and turned it into a 30-win team that won the Big 12 Tournament title before being upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The second year obviously didn’t go as well. There were a lot of expectations for the Tigers with what some dubbed as one of the best transfer classes in the history of college basketball. But the Tigers never put it together. After reaching the top 10, Missouri was inconsistent at best in conference play, stumbling to a sixth-place finish in a league that was not very good. Allegations of NCAA violations during Haith’s tenure at Miami continued to muddy the waters all season.

To defend Haith, former coach Mike Anderson left the cupboard bare. Haith had only seven scholarship players his first season and was forced to go with so many transfers out of necessity. There’s an inherent risk when you have a team of transfers that things will not work out. That risk came true this season.

But there are some alarming trends that have nothing to do with transfers trying to come together as a team. Haith’s two teams, who were very different in physical nature, had one common theme: Neither of them played defense.

Missouri did a poor job of guarding this season. They did not close out on 3-point shooters, their guards got lost on ball screens and their post players were constantly getting into foul trouble.

Much of the defensive trouble Missouri had in Haith’s first season was blamed on a small lineup. This team was supposed to be a more physical team. They were at times. The Tigers ranked second nationally in rebounds with more than 40 per game.

But when matched up against a physical team, Missouri folded. The Tigers were outrebounded 42-19 against Colorado State.

The loss of Michael Dixon hurt this team more than anyone could have imagined, but it ultimately came down to defense where Missouri decided to be a conscientious objector.

Haith said all season he thought his team was better defensively this season than last. Most who watched the Tigers never quite saw it that way.

Missouri ranked ninth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 66.7 points per game. If you’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament, you’ve probably seen points have been tough to come by across the board. But for a while, it looked like Colorado State might hang 100 on Missouri.

Haith clearly has his work cut out for him next season. Losing Laurence Bowers, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell are big losses. Ironically, those were three of Missouri’s better defenders this season.

Next year is a chance for Haith to put a mark on this program. Because of today’s win-now culture, fair or not, coaches don’t get a lot of next years.

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