Missouri’s basketball season probably should have come with a warning for fans: Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times and check to be sure your seatbelt is fastened low and tight across your waist.
The Tigers are delivering quite a roller coaster ride just six game into the season.
Third-year coach Kim Anderson believes such ups and downs will level off, but so far his Tigers have endured wild swings between encouraging and disappointing.
“We are a young team,” Anderson said. “We’ve got guys that, what are we the 346th youngest team in (NCAA) Division I? I know you’re tired of hearing that, but I’m going to keep using it. … Hopefully, as the year goes on, we’ll get more consistent.”
According to KenPom, the Tigers indeed are one of the nation’s least-experienced teams, but it’s also fair to point out that Kentucky, Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan State, Arizona, Southern California and LSU — all teams that rank in D-I’s bottom 10 percent experience-wise — don’t seem hindered much by a youthful roster.
Mizzou can’t lean strictly on youth and inexperience to explain its uneven performances.
“When we want to, we can really turn it up and bring a lot of energy and fire,” said junior forward Jordan Barnett, who becomes eligible Dec. 17 against Eastern Illinois. “We’ve got a lot of players that do that, but the biggest problem is that it’s when we want to. It should be something we bring every game.”
Against NC Central, the Tigers’ poor shooting — a meager 25 percent overall, including 3 for 22 in the paint during the first half — was the culprit in a 62-52 loss.
“Once we figure out that we have to bring it every single night regardless of who we’re playing, then we’ll be fine,” Kevin Puryear, a sophomore forward from Blue Springs South, said. “Missing that many layups (against NC Central) was just a lack of focus. … We are still struggling to find our identity, but I think come the middle of the season we’ll have one.”
Adding Barnett, a potent scorer who oozes athleticism (and reportedly has dominated Mizzou’s practices), into the mix should help.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of ability,” Anderson said. “Is it lack of focus? Is it nervousness? What is it? I’m not 100 percent sure. I’ve got theories, so I’m trying to correct that. … I didn’t think our effort was bad ever. I think we got frustrated. We ran the plays to get the shots. ... It just comes down to being able to produce, and it was a tough night.”
There might be more of those nights ahead, but there also should be more nights like the stirring battle against Xavier.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we are in for a rollercoaster season,” sophomore guard Terrence Philips said. “We’ve changed some things around here the past few days and Saturday, when we play (Western Kentucky at 2 p.m. at Mizzou Arena), I can honestly tell you it will be a different team. It’s kind of a fresh start and we’re ready to go again.”
Anderson said practice Tuesday was more competitive, partly by design, and he hoped an off day Wednesday would rejuvenate the Tigers.
On the injury front, Anderson said freshman center Reed Nikko is "doing great," but he's not yet ready to return from a sprained ankle suffer against Northwestern State last Saturday.
“I don’t really have a timetable, but I would think it wouldn’t be too much longer,” Anderson said.