Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Kim Anderson began his campaign as Missouri basketball coach this spring with promises of defense.
Now, eight games into his first season as a Division I coach, Anderson wishes he would’ve made some offensive promises as well.
“I spent a lot of time on defense, because I wanted to change the culture of the way we played,” he said. “I think I would’ve spent more time offensively (in retrospect). Not necessarily putting in plays and stuff, but maybe just getting a better read on guys and their abilities and what they need to get better at.
“I think we spent an awful lot of time on defense, and probably we should’ve spent more time on offense. Now I know.”
Missouri has struggled to find the bottom of the net in its 4-4 start. The Tigers are averaging just 63.9 points per game, last in the Southeastern Conference and 255th in the nation. Missouri put up 61 points in each of its three poorest efforts this year: a surprising season-opening loss to Missouri-Kansas City, a 21-point drubbing at the hands of Purdue in the EA Sports Maui Invitational and a four-point win against Southeast Missouri State in which the Tigers led for less than four minutes.
After the UMKC loss, Anderson said he felt his team was playing “a step slow.” Now, he feels like they’re “a step hesitant,” instead. He said his players had a “deer in the headlights” look on offense.
“That’s probably the best analogy,” freshman guard Namon Wright said. “I think we have the skill and we have the talent. We just don’t know exactly how to apply it yet, some of us. We don’t know exactly how to use what we have in certain situations.”
The Tigers are actually doing fairly well offensively from one part of the court. Missouri has made 39 percent of its shots from 3-point range, second-best in the SEC. However, the success has not trickled down to 2- and 1-point shots. The Tigers are third-to-last in the SEC in field-goal percentage (42.3 percent) and free-throw percentage (64.2 percent).
“That means we’re not doing very good around the basket,” Anderson said. “Is that confidence? Is that not being able to finish? We miss a lot of easy shots. You know, when you get to this level, you don’t usually (need to) do layup drills.”
Anderson has had his players run additional layup lines and other basic drills in hopes of improving their consistency around the net. Part of the problem, he said, has been poor decision-making when it comes to choosing whether to drive against taller post players.
“Our guards have to understand that when you go into the forest there, you’re going to run into some trees sometimes,” Anderson said.
The Tigers could certainly use some improvement from their own post players. The combination of 6-foot-10 Ryan Rosburg and 6-foot-11 Keanau Post has averaged just 6.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Anderson emphasized early on the Missouri offense would operate through the post.
“I think one of his focal points at the beginning of the year was the bigs,” Wright said, “but they haven’t been producing as much as we would like. So I’m not sure how that’s going to go.”
Anderson said it boils down to a word he’s regurgitated all season in regards to his big men: Confidence.
“I’ve got more confidence in (Rosburg) than he probably has in himself right now,” he said. “And I want him to know that. And same with Keanau. You know what, hey, we’re in this together, so we’ve got to keep plugging away.”
A real post presence could do wonders for the struggling Missouri offense.
“It can allow the guards to get more open shots and allow them to attack more, stuff like that,” Post said. “It changes the game completely. So the bigs, we need to step up. I need to step up, and I think we will in time.”
That time, Anderson believes, is coming soon. He said he and his staff are finally getting comfortable with the “definition” process of gauging each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Wright said the young team’s understanding of the offense is still a work in progress, but Anderson said the offensive learning curve should be coming to an end soon. All they need, he said, is for something good to happen.
The Tigers will get a chance to find that something in their home games against Elon on Thursday and Xavier on Saturday.
“I’m not going to sit here and say if we beat Elon and Xavier that we’re going to the Final Four,” Anderson said. “I’m just saying that if something good would happen where we would get some confidence and feel good about ourselves, I think that would help us. As coaches, that’s our responsibility to try to help them gain confidence, but the way to do that is to play well.
“If you play well, you’re going to win games. If you don’t play well, you’re not going to win. We’ve seen that.”