ST. LOUIS – The cooling-off period is over. It’s time to take a look at what went wrong.
First, a short recap: Frank Haith’s second season in Columbia ended in a 23-11 record, a middle-of-the-pack finish in the SEC league standings and another early exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers, ranked 15th in the country heading into the season, showed flashes, like when they beat Florida by three on Feb. 19. But more often, they faltered, leaving their fans scratching their heads (or throwing remotes at TVs).
Here are three trends that led to the fizzling of a season that had such high expectations.
1) Chemistry equation:
What a roster it was. When the 2012-13 Tiger took shape, the nation noticed. Here was a team that had the SEC’s best point guard (junior Phil Pressey), and a versatile forward (senior Laurence Bowers) who was back to his high-flying self after a knee injury threatened to sideline his career. And there were the new guys — a load of transfers, including one forward (senior Alex Oriakhi) who already had a national championship under his belt.
Team chemistry became the buzzword, and the Tigers chased it all season long.
Missouri never found an unquenchable desire to win, or any of the other cliches used to describe a team that takes care of the games it should and steals the ones it shouldn’t. It showed every time Missouri coughed up a lead or lost on the road to a team it drilled at home.
Maybe it was a lack of leadership (the Tigers lost a lot of experience when senior guard Mike Dixon Jr. was suspended). Maybe it was one too many new faces. Or maybe it was a lack of team-building by Haith and his staff. Whatever it was, it left the Tigers exposed again and again.
Haith can recruit. He did it at Miami, and has done it at Missouri. That’s important, and anyone who argues that landing big-time prospects isn’t a staple of a successful program is crazy.
But, having the right ingredients doesn’t always guarantee something delicious comes out of the oven.
2) Underused Oriakhi:
Alex Oriakhi was the man, when Missouri would let him do his thing. In his one-year stint in black and gold, the Connecticut transfer averaged 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. And those numbers could have been higher.
The microcosm came against Colorado State, Missouri’s final game of the season. Oriakhi scored 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting and four made free throws. Yes, he made every shot that left his hands, and still only shot from the field six times. It wasn’t the first time he seemed to be underused at the offensive end.
According to Statsheet.com, Oriakhi finished fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (63.9) and sixth in true shooting percentage (67.38). Yet, his 216 attempts this season did not even crack the list of the nation’s top-200. In fact, Oriakhi didn’t even shoot the most out of Missouri players. Five Tigers shot more: Phil Pressey (375), Laurence Bowers (317), Earnest Ross (288) and Jabari Brown (250).
Oriakhi is done at Missouri. If Haith is fortunate enough to land another big body who has a hard time missing the cylinder, he should make sure the big man shoots a lot more often.
3) Pressey’s predicament:
In the final minutes of more than a few Missouri games, Phil Pressey (11.9 points, 7.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds) shifted from his team’s most-valuable asset to its biggest liability.
There were the missed 3-pointers with time left on the clock at UCLA and LSU. There was the pass that sailed out of bounds at Texas A&M.
The ever-confident guard sometimes hurt the Tigers with ill-timed shots and questionable ball handling — especially when time got thin and games were on the line.
At his best, Pressey is an orchestrator of the offense — not the sole creator and scorer. He’s the general, the man the offense flows through. This year, surrounded by more talent than Missouri had since he’s been a Tiger, Pressey sometimes tried to do to much. The proof is in the numbers.
He attempted 106 more field goals and 38 more 3-pointers this year than last. The result was a 1.6 point-per-game increase that was offset by a decline in shooting percentages. His field-goal percentage dropped 5.2 percent this season compared to last year. His 3-point percentage decreased 4.1 percent.
A senior season at Mizzou could be what Pressey needs to build the maturity it takes to run an offense in the most-pivotal moments. It might not happen, though. He’s projected as a mid-second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
You can follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter @Ben_Fred or email him at email@example.com