Every coach starts his career with a Utopian view. That view is soon replaced by reality.
"I would say my first couple years as a head coach, I was impatient as all get out," Frank Haith said. "You want it to happen right away."
It is every coach's goal to have a team that plays its best every time it takes the floor. Yet no one has gone through a college basketball season undefeated in 37 years now.
"That's never gonna happen," Haith said of a team playing its best every night. "I think you want to look at the big picture. That's what we've tried to do with our team and keep that process going in terms of learning and getting better."
Instead of perfection, the buzz word is "consistency." If a coach can get that--or even some semblance of that--he is happy.
"You got to try to play your best every game," Jabari Brown said. "But it's not realistic that everybody's gonna have 35 great games."
"With any team, having that same mindset, same energy, same passion every single game, it's kind of hard to do," Phil Pressey said. "It's easy to do at home, but on the road it's a lot harder because wherever you're at...it's a new place to you, new arena, you don't have any fans on your side, it gets loud in there and a lot of things go against you."
So each team knows that perfect seasons will not occur. Even perfect games are incredibly rare. Rather than playing its best 35 to 40 times, teams now focus on playing their best at the right time of year. That time is here.
"I think that time is coming real soon," Brown said. "We've got a lot of road games in these next ten games so we've definitely got to start ramping things up."
Missouri fans, perhaps, got a jilted view of this concept last season. A senior-laden Tiger team was fantastic virtually from the opening tip. Game four was a 29-point thrashing of Notre Dame. Game five was a 39-point humiliation of Cal. Rarely did fans see the 2011-12 Tigers at anything less than close to their best.
"We were an experienced team, we played well with each other," Pressey said. "Everyone on our team played together their whole career. I just feel like we gelled together. And we were blessed to have no injuries. I mean, one guy goes down on that team, it could have hurt us. Big-time. One guy. It didn't matter who it was."
"They were great. They competed every night," Haith said. "There were some games where we weren't great defensively. We could outscore people. I think that was the difference in last year's team and that probably caught up to us at the end. We weren't as good as this team defensively, but we could go to Texas Tech and get 17 threes. That was the difference. Our effort wasn't always great on that end, but we were always capable of scoring."
This team has already shown its imperfections. A blown lead at UCLA, blowout losses at Ole Miss and Florida and a head-scratcher at LSU. Perhaps that should have been expected for a team that returned only one player to the court from last season.
What's done is done. The season is, at least, halfway done. Missouri takes to the floor against Texas A&M in College Station tonight in search of its first true road win of the year. The time for rounding in to form is done. Missouri knows the time is here to hit that peak.
"That's exactly what we need to be doing," Pressey said. "I feel like we played well last game with our full team and hopefully we can stay healthy the rest of the year."
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