When Kim Anderson was hired last spring as Missouri’s men’s basketball coach, his top priority was cultivating a defensive mind-set.
Most of the summer was spent on the fundamentals of defense, hammering into a relatively young Tigers squad the value and importance of guarding well.
“I spent a lot of time on defense, because I wanted to change the culture of the way we played,” Anderson said.
If he had it to over again, he said, “I probably would have spent more time offensively — not necessarily putting in plays and stuff, but just getting a better read on guys and their abilities and what they need to get better at.”
Missouri, 4-4, is averaging fewer than 64 points per game and is shooting 42.3 percent, which is tied for 224th among 351 NCAA Division I teams.
The Tigers rank 56th nationally in three-point shooting at 39 percent, but that’s been offset by struggles in the paint.
“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. It’s something that, when you get to this level you don’t normally do layup drills. I mean, you do them, but we’re doing layup drills and putback drills — more of a concentration thing.”
Missouri’s post players, senior Keanau Post and junior Ryan Rosburg, average 6.3 points combined and are shooting only 43.2 percent, but the entire offense remains a work in progress.
Anderson wants the Tigers to play inside-out, so improved production from Rosburg and Post is critical, but so is a general understanding of the offense up and down the roster.
“Sometimes when I watch us play, we look like a deer in the headlights,” Anderson said. “There is a learning curve, but the curve should about be over.”
Missouri’s floor spacing and the timing of its screen game hasn’t jelled.
Part of the struggle is that the Tigers’ coaches and players are still trying to settle into roles.
“This is a hard team to define,” Anderson said. “You’ve got a new coach, new players, new system. We’re trying to still define guys. As a staff, we’re getting a better grip on that.”
Figuring out who is comfortable as a scorer, who can handle the ball and how guys react under pressure in those situations remains a fluid process.
“We’re taking strides every day, and one of these days it’s going to click,” Rosburg said. “That’s when we’ll be dangerous. … We’re getting really close. We show it in practice every day, but it’s just translating that into games and pressure situations when adversity hits. Are we going to do what we practice or do our own thing?”
Missouri — which plays host to former coach Frank Haith’s alma mater, Elon, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena — knows that things need to change quickly.
It’s still early in the season in some respects, but by the end of the weekend the Tigers will be one-third of the way through the regular season.
“I guess you could say we’re all just learning now, still, but we need to get out of the learning phase soon,” senior Keith Shamburger said. “We’re up to eight games in, about to be nine, so it’s going fast.”
Still, MU insists the pieces are in place for a quality team.
“We have the skill and we have the talent, but we don’t know exactly how to apply it yet, some of us,” freshman Namon Wright said. “We don’t know exactly how to use what we have in certain situations.”