Missouri tries to keep opponents honest by mixing up its defenses, switching liberally from man to zone throughout the game.
Of course, some games nothing seems to work for the Tigers.
But Missouri coach Frank Haith was encouraged despite a 71-56 loss Tuesday at Georgia.
“We weren’t bad defensively once our defense was set,” Haith said. “Where we were bad was in our transition defense, and we’ve got to work on that.”
He continued, “We made some progress from Alabama to Georgia defensively. The Alabama game, I was really disappointed in our defensive effort. There’s no question about it, but I thought we competed in the Georgia game.”
Haith wasn’t blind to some of the late-game breakdowns that led to a few Bulldogs’ dunks, but overall he saw better effort and better results. He pointed to the fact that the Tigers only trailed 25-22 after 19 minutes as evidence.
“We’ve got to work on our defense, no question, but I was encouraged by the transition from Alabama to Georgia,” Haith said.
If there’s reason to be alarmed, it’s the fact that communication remains an issue for Missouri in its zone after 28 games.
That’s what junior Jordan Clarkson pointed to when asked about the defense’s struggles, “A lot of it comes from communication. We’ve been talking about it through the whole year, and I think teams are still making the most threes on us in the conference. We’ve just got to run guys off the three-point line and make them feel uncomfortable.”
Of course, it might help if the Tigers extended more in their zone, but that’s not really an option.
“We just don’t have enough depth,” Haith said. “We would be able to do that more if we had more depth. … We rely on those (perimeter) guys to do a lot of scoring, so it’s hard to (extend the defense) when you rely on those guys to score for you and how you want them to score. If we had more depth on the perimeter, I think we could have done more with that, but we just don’t have that.”
What Missouri, 19-9 and 7-8 in the SEC, is a chance to return to the win column Saturday against Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena. Here are three keys to victory:
1. Take better shots
Haith said he thinks Clarkson and junior Jabari Brown are pressing too much.
Both admitted to playing a bit out of character and forcing too many shots against Georgia.
The duo also sat down Sunday with Haith to review film and focus on times when they could do a better job getting teammates involved and creating easier shots.
2. Play hard
Missouri’s tournament life almost certainly is on the line. There’s no way the Tigers could survive tanking a game at home against a Mississippi State squad ranked No. 223 in the NCAA’s RPI at this point in the season.
Accordingly, Missouri should play like its postseason existence is at stake. Don’t think style points won’t be awarded either.
The Tigers can’t look disinterested in a six-point win. That would be as bad as a loss, which leads to …
3. Put the pedal down
It’s a great matchup for Missouri — well, every team really.
Mississippi State is the league’s worst three-point shooting team at barely 30 percent. The Bulldogs are also the worst at field-goal percentage defense.
The Tigers need to regain a little confidence on offense and this should be the perfect opportunity.