Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
There hasn’t been much in the way of excitement for fans of the Missouri men’s basketball team the past two seasons. From the get-go, Kim Anderson’s roster was besieged by departures and arrests. He was denied even a commemorative win to begin the new era, as Anderson’s first game as head coach was an embarrassing home defeat to Missouri-Kansas City.
Things haven’t gotten much better since. The team lost 13 straight games in Southeastern Conference play last year in route to setting a program record with 23 losses.
This year, the Tigers, who have yet to win a true road game under Anderson, could very well lose 20 again. On the bright side, though, the danger of matching last year’s loss total has long since passed because a self-imposed postseason ban will prevent Missouri from losing a game in the SEC Tournament.
Like I said, not a whole lot to get excited about.
When the darkness is that all-encompassing — 10 players have left Missouri without using up their eligibility since Frank Haith’s last game, by the way — it’s not hard to see a light.
And, for perhaps the first time since Anderson took over, there is a glimmer of hope. It’s not a light that will shine on an NCAA Tournament win. In fact, its switch will soon be flipped to “off.” But it’s a light nonetheless.
Ryan Rosburg is the light.
If you think that analogy is overwrought now, think how crazy it would have sounded even a year ago. Rosburg is the lone remaining player from the Haith era, the only upperclassman on the team who’s not a transfer. He won’t be going to any postseason tournaments this year because of that ban, and he has every reason to call it a career.
Instead, he’s now playing his best ball as a Missouri Tiger. Up until Feb. 6, he had never scored more than 14 points in a game or 12 against an SEC opponent. The next four games, he averaged 20 points, shooting 62 percent from the floor and hauling in 28 combined rebounds. Even Saturday, when he struggled with foul trouble at Arkansas, Rosburg still managed to put up 11 points and get a few big blocks in helping the Tigers from falling off the rails in the second half.
A year ago, Rosburg looked lost. His offensive contributions were negligible, and he really wasn’t all that noticeable until he got to the free-throw line, where he missed twice as many shots as he made.
This season, even before he transformed into the steady-footed post man dubbed “Ryan Abdul-Jabbar” by Tramaine Isabell, he was shooting better from the line. He’s made over half his shots there, in fact.
It’s a good look for Anderson. Yes, he was dealt a tough hand when he took over, and most of the program’s current struggles can be blamed on Haith. But Anderson hadn’t had a signature moment yet where you could say, “See, this thing is headed in the right direction.” Perhaps Anderson’s coaching of Rosburg is just that. Anderson was a strong Missouri post player himself and I’m much more likely to credit him than Haith for the senior’s scoring burst.
Plus, Rosburg’s offensive awakening has made Missouri a more fun team to watch. With a presence inside, the Tigers have actually shown signs of a functioning offense. Rosburg being held to 11 points in just 16 minutes Saturday was a big part of why the Tigers’ two-game winning streak ended. Take a time machine back to last February and see how believable that sentence sounds to your former self.
But above all, it’s been fun to watch Rosburg do well if only for Rosburg’s sake. He’s stayed out of trouble for four years as the program collapsed around him. When the postseason ban was announced in January, no one would have blamed him for skulking off into the sunset. Instead, he has averaged 11.7 points in the 11 games since.
If Kim Anderson turns Missouri around, Ryan Rosburg won’t be around to enjoy the result. But Anderson might have the big man to thank for giving Tiger fans a flicker of hope.