Frank Haith has the Missouri Tigers near the top of the Big 12 standings and national polls. How far can he take this team in his first year as coach?
A number of factors led to Missouri’s big road win over Baylor, but none was more important than the preparation that Frank Haith and his staff made before the game even started.
It was a game that not even the biggest Missouri apologist could imagine their team winning.
Everything seemed to be going against the Tigers going into Saturday's tilt with the #3 Baylor Bears.
1. Missouri, a team that plays four guards, was going against a Baylor team that has four players standing at 6-foot-9 or taller.
2. Baylor was coming off a tough loss at Kansas and it seemed like they would be extremely prepared and excited for their first top-five matchup at home.
3. Missouri was going on the road to face a team ranked in the top 3, a situation they hadn't won in since 1990 when the #2 Tigers beat the #1 Jayhawks in Lawrence.
4. The Tigers hadn't beaten Baylor in Waco since 2004.
5. Baylor goes 10 deep on the bench when Missouri can only play 7 players.
Still, Missouri overcame all of those odds to get an impressive 89-88 road win at No. 3 Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The score is a lot closer than the game actually was, as Missouri controlled the pace from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Many things went right for the Tigers on Saturday. Ricardo Ratliffe had a career-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting, Phil Pressey had an impressive line of 18 points, 7 assists, 6 steals and 5 rebounds. The team shot 55 percent from the floor and rebounded almost half of their misses (12 of 25).
Looking at those stats after the game is nice, but the only way the players were able to perform so impressively was because of some great preparation from the coaching staff. Missouri comes into every game with some inherent weaknesses, of which depth and rebounding are not the least. For them to overcome those weaknesses, especially in this game, is a huge credit to the coaching staff.
Specifically in this game, the Tigers were able to break down the Baylor zone by cutting their guards to the free throw line and making offense from that point. Instead of passing it around the perimeter with little off-the-ball movement like they did last year, the Tigers were able to get a number of easy looks in the post using cuts, as seen by their 68 percent rate on two pointers for the game (23-of-34).
A lot of coaches would have abandoned the post going into a game against a tall team like Baylor, especially with the height disadvantage that the Tigers have, but Haith decided to attack the basket with his guards and it paid off, especially on the glass. By driving the lane, Missouri was able to get a large number of offensive rebounds because they collapsed the zone defense, leaving a free rebounder nearly every time a layup went up.
The Tigers have turned into a team with a dominant half-court offense and aggressive defense and are showing noticeable improvements in every aspect that was weak when the season started. All of that points directly to coaching.
The coaching staff is keeping everyone around the program even-keeled, even with a potential top 2 or 3 ranking coming on Monday.
"We played very well. There's nothing else to talk about," coach Frank Haith said in an ESPN interview after the game. "We prepared, we came out and played. I want our guys to have some maturity and understand that this was an outstanding game and there is nothing else to talk about."
It's this kind of preparation and the attitude that comes from that preparation that has made Frank Haith and his staff so successful so early on in their career at Mizzou. Is there anyone else you would have as your national coach of the year at this point?
Looking forward, it is very conceivable that the Tigers could finish anywhere from 16-2 to 14-4, which would make the final Big 12 standings very interesting.