Missouri is buried deep in last place in the Southeastern Conference, a spot nobody envisioned when the season started. After beating LSU to open league play, Mizzou has dropped 11 straight, with a difficult task, at No. 18 Arkansas, looming Wednesday.
That’s the first of six regular season games remaining, and keeping a losing team on track in effort and spirit becomes a challenge.
“It’s difficult,” Tigers coach Kim Anderson said. “Probably nobody involved with this team has ever lost 11 games in a row.”
But some of the game’s best coaches have been there, experienced a double-digit losing streak, and survived to become big winners.
In his first job, at Oral Roberts, Bill Self started out like he knew what he was doing. The team split its first 12 games.
Then lost its final 15 to finish 6-21.
“That was as hard a coaching job as I’ve ever had, keeping guys’ spirits and motivation up,” said Self, bidding for his 11th straight Big 12 championship at Kansas.
When Fred Hoiberg took over Iowa State for the 2010-11 season, the Cyclones won a Big 12 game early, lost 10 straight and at one point owned a 1-12 conference record.
But Iowa State won two of its final three games and played its best basketball at the season’s end to finish 16-16. The Cyclones haven’t missed the NCAA Tournament since then.
“Some teams pack it in a little,” Hoiberg said. “That was definitely not the case with that team.”
It doesn’t appear to be the case with Missouri. Sure, the Tigers (7-18) have delivered some clunkers, like the 20-point home loss to Mississippi on Jan. 31.
But last week, the Tigers lost at South Carolina by five and at home to Mississippi State by three. Both opponents, like Mizzou, have spent the majority of the season at or near the bottom of the standing. Missouri battled in both.
There’s also the prospect of the conference tournament. Even in the gloomiest of seasons, the tournament provides a ray of hope.
“It gives teams hope in February,” Self said. “We were an independent and didn’t have that. I think without the conference tournament it makes it really difficult to finish on a high note.”
Self and Hoiberg were head coaches for the first time and, like Anderson, had strong ties to the area or school. They took over programs that needed repair or were trending downward. Oral Roberts had won eight games in each of the previous two years. Iowa State had posted four straight losing seasons.
Missouri was in for a rebuilding year after losing nearly all of its scoring from last season.
But the winning happened quickly for Self and Hoiberg. Self’s teams won 39 games in his last two years and he took the Tulsa job.
Iowa State knew improvement was imminent. The scout team in Hoiberg’s first season included transfers Royce White, Chris Allen and Chris Babb.
Next season is probably on the minds of many who follow Missouri, which could finish with its worst record since the mid-1960s.
Surrendering on a season happens. For Missouri, barring a miracle run at the conference tournament, playing hard through the end of the schedule should be the Tigers’ objective.