I’m puzzled at the reaction to the closing moments of the Missouri/Texas game on Monday night, a game in which the Tigers won 67-66. For my taste, Missouri head coach Frank Haith is getting a little too much credit for the events of the final possession. For example, the reaction on twitter has almost universally praised Haith for throwing a zone defense at Texas after the Longhorns’ timeout with 27 seconds remaining. See also, this blurb from Andy Katz.
I suppose Haith deserves credit for throwing a zone at Texas out of the timeout prior to the game-deciding possession. But I’m really not sure. I mean, I have few reasons to make such a judgment, other than to say, “Missouri won, therefore Haith is brilliant!” However, unless Rick Barnes is lying, this move was anticipated. And besides, it’s not like it’s rare for a coach to change defenses out of a timeout late in the game.
Sure, the Longhorns’ offense was disrupted by the move, but then again, they ended up getting a pretty decent shot from Myck Kabongo, one on which he appeared to get fouled. Now, officials are not necessarily going to call fouls on the final possession using the same standard as the rest of the game, but I hope we can agree that Haith had no control over whether the whistle was blown is that situation. And I have a hard time heaping praise on a person based on an outcome that was out of the person’s control.
Had a foul been called and Texas gone on to win the game, I think it’s safe to say that few people would be praising Haith or calling for him to win coach of the year based on his final-possession strategy. In fact, I’m guessing they’d be talking about blowing a ten-point lead in the closing minutes and how Missouri is reeling, and perhaps that Haith has a less-than-stellar track record in close games during his career. That, too, would have been an overreaction. And just to be clear, the difference between these two extremes is an event that Haith had no influence on.
There’s no denying that Frank Haith has done a great job this season. There are few teams in the country better than Missouri right now, and I’d say that whether the Tigers had won or lost in Austin. Mizzou was primed to be very good, but there’s something to be said for not screwing that up as a new coach. Especially when the hire had little support among the fan base. However, let’s not anoint Frank Haith as the basketball version of Bill Belichick. Perhaps his move at the end of game was brilliant, but the outcome of the game was also influenced by random events out of Haith’s control. Giving him credit for the switch to zone is fine, but praising him for the outcome of the game is a bit much.