After its worst start in 25 years, the Tigers are talking about one thing with their toughest stretch ahead of them. They are talking about defense. Because all the talk about anything else is missing the point.
After a 82-68 loss to Syracuse on Monday dropped Missouri to 6-6, the Tigers certainly weren't on the defensive. They knew their offense had nothing to do with the latest chapter in their wayward season.
After a question about facing the Orangemen's 2-3 zone, Missouri senior Rickey Paulding gave a short reply, and then said, "I just think it's about defense."
And it's probably the closest thing to the truth. Missouri's opponents are shooting 42.7 percent, and more important, have averaged almost 15 assists per game to less than 12 turnovers. But with a game in Norman against No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday and then a home game against No. 18 Texas on Tuesday, the Tigers know they have to fix it fast.
"We should be afraid because that should drive us," coach Quin Snyder said.
Missouri's schedule was supposed to take away the fear. It was supposed to give the Tigers the chance to find out their weaknesses, especially on defense, so they would be ready for the stretch run. But that plan probably didn't include losses to Belmont and Iowa State, and instead, the schedule has perhaps done the opposite: taking away the Tigers' confidence every time it gets high.
"(The schedule)'s done everything it's supposed to do," guard Jimmy McKinney said. "But on the flip side, we're beating ourselves.
"I wouldn't say we're less confident, but I think we feel, I wouldn't say down on ourselves, but we feel we need to make a change and a run right now or our season will be down the drain."
On the other side of the daunting stretch of Missouri's schedule, a win or two could give the Tigers a much-needed boost in their RPI standing, which is down to at least 70 in most projections. With the loss to Belmont already staining Missouri's NCAA Tournament resume, the Tigers will have to make a move quick, or else the Big 12 Tournament could be their last refuge.
Snyder agrees, and he said it won't get done until his team starts playing better defense.
"You could point to each one of our guy, and say, there's a breakdown here and a breakdown there, and we've got to shore those things up because it's a team game," he said.
"It's team defense. They don't put up there who scored on AJ and who scored on Jason. It's Missouri and Syracuse. And that's where it is."