Time to put it together

At 5-5, Missouri has underachieved more than anyone could have imagined before the season. The focus has drifted from being banned from the NCAA Tournament to making the tournament, period. Even with the abundance of talent he has, the next 18 games will be the biggest test for Quin Snyder to prove his worth.

After Missouri's win against Iowa on Saturday, a reporter asked coach Quin Snyder about the fire he's getting from some of his players. Snyder clearly had other things on his mind.

"I thought you said, "Is there any question I'm getting fired?" Snyder responded.

Well, Snyder's exit probably surely isn't imminent, but Snyder definitely has a plethora of problems he needs to solve because right now, Missouri's worries these days are no longer about the NCAA banning them from the NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers making the tournament at all.

At 5-5, Missouri has the possibility of falling below .500 with games coming up against Syracuse, Oklahoma and Texas. It would be the first time Snyder has been below .500 since Snyder's first game, a loss to Wisconsin.

This time, it would be much more embarrassing. Missouri was not overrated this season in the polls based on its talent. It has two potential All-Americans, a former NCAA scoring leader, a Freshman of the Year candidate, and several other players many other coaches would love to have.

So what's the deal?

Opponents have been quick to figure out the Tigers. They can't make decisions. They can't get the ball inside, and when that happens, they take bad shots. All of this explains why every team Missouri has faced has given them plenty of zone defense to deal with.

In the next 18 games, Snyder will have to show he's much more than a great recruiter. He will have to show he's at least a good coach. There hasn't been a team that Missouri has faced this season that anyone could say has more talent than the Tigers. Yet they already have five losses going into Saturday's game against Texas A&M.

Surely, there are several suggestions to be made. On offense, the ball doesn't move quickly enough. When a player takes time to make the next pass, it gives time for the zone to reset, and then the offense hasn't gotten anywhere.

Only two Tigers, Jason Conley and Josh Kroenke, have proven they can get the ball inside against the zone. So Arthur Johnson has been rendered useless in the halfcourt set against the zone. Better ball movement on the perimeter makes these inside passes easier.

On defense, only Rickey Paulding has shown to be a good on-the-ball defender. How does Belmont, whose tallest player was a slim 6-foot-8, get off 35 3-pointers? The Tigers have excellent post defenders in Johnson, Bryant, and Kleiza, so there isn't an excuse for players not defending the perimeter shot.

But overall, the problem is the fire Snyder has received from the players. It isn't there, and it's rarely been there in the past three years until the season winds down. Thomas Gardner had that fire Wednesday night against Iowa State, but he played only 13 minutes, in which he scored 17 times. Snyder benched him and several others for his seniors, whom he said would never get a chance to play at the Hilton house of horrors. But while this kind sentimentality often wins over recruits for Snyder, it doesn't always win games.

I could sit here and make several suggestions, but I'm not a college coach. I haven't dissected the film, and I haven't seen the players every day in practice. So what it will come down to is if Snyder, whom I assume has seen the film, has seen practice, can put it all together. Or else, for the first time in a while, it will be a long winter for Missouri fans desperately waiting for spring football to begin.

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