Blogger Spotlight: Talking Mizzou hoops with Rock M Nation

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To say Missouri’s had an interesting offseason would be an understatement.

The Tigers – who closed the season by losing five of their last six games – lost coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas, reportedly had Matt Painter convinced to leave Purdue for Columbia, only to watch him stay in West Lafayette (and find out he was supposedly never serious about bolting the Boilermakers) had multiple players declare for the NBA draft, the finally hired Miami’s Frank Haith as their new coach.

And since then, life’s gotten even more interesting for the Tigers, who’ve locked up good prospects, a key coaching assistant and welcome nearly every important  player from last year’s team.

So, I turned to Bill Connelly from Rock M Nation for the latest Blogger Spotlight to help me cover Haith’s first few weeks on the job, Mizzou’s season, its style and its prospects for next season.

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Q: Hiring Frank Haith didn’t wow people – I was in that camp – but he’s already secured solid recruits and made an excellent assistant hire in Tim Fuller. And given his response to the tornado disaster in Joplin, do you think people are looking at Haith differently now?

A: Haith has been nothing but impressive since he was hired. Between the recruiting and his commitment to winning over the state of Missouri, he has pushed all the right buttons. Obviously that won’t matter if he can’t win, but with the roster he has in place for next year, he could build solid momentum with a nice 2012 recruiting class and a nice 2011-12 season.

The biggest thing Haith has going for him, and the reason I’ve been mostly on board from Day One, is simple: it’s been a really long time since athletic director Mike Alden has made a poor hire.  Like, 1999.  Quin Snyder was the last iffy hire he made, and even that one looked like it was going to work out well for about four years.  Alden trusts that Haith didn’t have the support to live up to his potential at Miami, and he trusts that Mizzou will provide him with that support.  Until he actually makes another bad hire (which everybody does at some point), I have no reason to doubt him.

Q: That said, the season hasn’t started. Haith’s Miami teams were never a conference contender and made just one NCAA tournament in seven years. What will the expectations be in 2011-12 given how much experience is on the roster?

A: I think the expectations are, at the very least, another trip to the NCAA Tournament. But with this much senior talent, one would have to figure it would be disappointing if they didn’t at least make the Round of 32.

Q: Early word on what the players think of him?

A: Early word is that the players love him, honestly.  There were extreme concerns that Phil Pressey would be out the door quickly, especially considering his ties to Mike Anderson.  Instead, he is committed to staying, and nobody else left either.  That has to be a good sign.

Q: That does sound promising for keeping a solid player base. Are there indications if Haith will use portions of Anderson’s pressing, up-tempo styles?

A: Haith has announced that he will keep a lot of the up-tempo nature because that’s what this group is built to do. So basically, I see Mizzou attempting to push the tempo after defensive rebounds and turnovers, but I don’t see them pressing very much.  Which is good, really, because Mizzou wasn’t as good at pressing this past season.  Mike Dixon and Phil Pressey are built to run and play offense, but they weren’t built to press.

Q: The 2010-11 season ended abruptly and couldn’t have been pleasant to watch given the highs Missouri hit. What was the ultimate factor in the late losses and general road woes? How do they get fixed?

A: Some teams just peak at the wrong time. It seemed like Mizzou just ran out of energy down the stretch. Obviously Mizzou fans were able to twist that into “The players knew Anderson was leaving!!” or “Anderson stopped coaching!!” but I don’t necessarily believe that. They just lost the edge that you have to have to run Anderson’s system, and it wasn’t fun to watch.

As for the road woes … the Anderson style is not built for road success simply because it is so dependent on how officials are calling the games, and whether they think they do or not, officials favor the home team. So I think Mizzou had this natural tendency to be better than average at home, where they got calls, and worse than average on the road, where they didn’t.  Beyond that, though … again, it comes down to edge and confidence.  Previous Mizzou teams had it away from home, at least more than in 2010-11, and this one didn’t.  Marcus Denmon showed up on the road, either Mike Dixon or Phil Pressey would from time to time, and Ricardo Ratliffe did for a while.  But Laurence Bowers was mostly nonexistent, and Kim English was an absolute detriment.  Hopefully that changes in 2011-12, obviously.

Q: I’m a Kansas grad, so this question comes with the rivalry in mind: Do you miss the days of Norm Stewart poking a stick at Kansas and its fans? I always thought Mike Anderson could’ve used a little more of that. Not just straight up ripping, but having some fun with the rivalry, you know?

A: I’m not as obsessed with the MU-KU rivalry as some — my freshman year at Mizzou, an acquaintance in the dorm told me, in all seriousness, that Mizzou could go 1-27, and if they beat Kansas at home, it was a successful year.  Even then, that baffled me. 

That said … it’s still the biggest series of the year, and Norm really did make the rivalry fun.  He was a unique case — he grew up with the rivalry and in the rivalry; that gave him a unique feel for things, one that Haith probably doesn’t have.  But he’s going to try his best, and if he knocks off the Jayhawks at Mizzou Arena (or, god forbid, Allen Fieldhouse for the first time in 13 years), then Mizzou fans will do the poking-with-sticks for him.

Q: I’m always amazed at the people who want the 1 win over the rival as well. Don’t you want more than just that? Like next year. Missouri should be in good shape to possibly win the Big 12 and make a decent NCAA tourney run. Who needs to be player needs to step up for that to happen?

A: In the late signing period, Haith and company evidently did not find anybody worth spending a scholarship on once Otto Porter announced he was going to Georgetown, which was mostly fine.  Mizzou has quite a bit of depth already, and the biggest immediate recruiting job, really, was to make sure Phil Pressey stayed. 

What this did, however, was leave Mizzou with the bigs they have.  I think that the biggest pressure will be on the main bigs — Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers — to prove that, in less of a run-and-gun environment, they can bang and rebound a bit better.  The Mike Anderson style is always going to result in iffy rebounding numbers to some degree (even in 2008-09, they were average at best in this department), but what happened in 2010-11 was that Mizzou forced fewer turnovers and created fewer easy baskets … and while they didn’t get any worse on the glass than they were the year before, it became more of an issue with the extra possessions opponents were receiving.  We know Mizzou will have a dynamic backcourt, but the frontcourt is still a bit of a question mark.

Q: Favorite Mizzou team of the last 15 years?

A: Honestly, I’ve got to go with 2008-09. t’s probably obvious (it was one of only two Mizzou teams in that span to advance beyond the Round of 32), but the reasons behind it go beyond simply “They were really good.”  After a really, really depressing half-decade of Mizzou basketball, where Mizzou not only didn’t win, but they suffered some embarrassing moments off the court, fan morale was at an all-time low. With both on-court style and personality, that team won everybody back, and then some.  It was the subject of perhaps my favorite post I’ve ever written at Rock M Nation.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? And how much longer do you intend keeping it up?

A: For years, I was writing lengthy posts on various message boards until I realized I hated message boards for the most part, so some friends and I started a little Google Group just to talk amongst ourselves. Then, after about a year of that, the lightbulb went off: I’m reading hundreds of blogs a day … why the hell haven’t I started a Mizzou one yet?  Mizzou Sanity went up the next day, and about eight months later, I was writing for SB Nation with a fellow Mizzou blogger from a different site.

How long do I intend to keep it up?  Until blogs don’t exist anymore, I’m assuming.  If I ever stopped, I’d still be having all the same thoughts running around in my head, and I’d have to get them out somehow, so…why stop?

You can find more of Bill’s writing here and follow him on Twitter @rockmnation.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.