Missouri is in the midst of another three-game slide, the second of the season.
It’s the first time since 1965-66 — a dismal 3-21 season under Bob Vanatta — that the Tigers have endured two three-game losing streaks during nonconference play.
Part of that is a product of scheduling because, for the most part, there are a lot more nonconference games than there once were.
Part of it is a difficult nonconference schedule for Missouri, whose losses have come against six primarily Power Five teams — No. 6 Xavier, Kansas State, Northwestern, No. 8 Arizona, North Carolina State and Illinois — with a combined .838 winning percentage (62-12).
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The Tigers limped into SEC action last season at 6-7, which was the first time the program was below .500 entering conference play since going 4-5 in 1978-79 before the old Big Eight holiday tournament.
Missouri’s 5-6 record is identical to last season, but freshman Terrence Phillips believes the similarities stop there.
“We’re 5-6 right now, and I know some people are probably counting us out and think it’s the same team as last year,” Phillips said. “Well, it’s not. ... We’re going to fight every game.”
The Tigers were embarrassed by Kansas State and Arizona but battled back from deficits of 20 or more to pull within a single possession in the closing minutes against Northwestern and Illinois.
There is ample reason to believe Missouri has improved.
The Tigers’ adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings are higher, according to KenPom. Coach Kim Anderson’s squad is also playing at a higher tempo, which was an offseason goal.
Missouri’s scoring is up nearly three points per game compared with nonconference play last season, though the defense is allowing an additional five points per game.
The Tigers’ shooting percentage is up to 43.3 percent from 42.9 in non-SEC play last season, and the squad’s assist-to-turnover ratio also has climbed.
It’s still not great at 0.96, but that’s a marked improvement from 0.75 last season in nonconference play.
Missouri also is drawing more fouls per game than last season, a product of playing more aggressively and making more of an effort to get to the rim.
Not everything is rosy.
MU’s three-point shooting has declined a few points and the free-throw shooting remains flat, while fouls committed are up significantly.
The Tigers’ rebounding margin — minus-0.6 in nonconference last season — also has dipped a bit to minus-2.4, a number that could change after games against Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Mizzou Arena and the nonconference finale at 2 p.m. Saturday against Savannah State.
“We know we have to turn things around here,” Phillips said. “This isn’t last year’s team. This is an entirely different team. Last year happened. Last year’s gone. This is the new season, and we just got to build from here.”
Picking up a couple wins this week and entering conference play with a winning record would be a good start.