COLUMBIA — In the aftermath of Central Missouri's 84-77 victory over West Liberty last month, there was little doubt in Daylen Robinson's mind as to what propelled his team to its first Division II national championship since 1984.
"Defense was the difference at the end," the Mules senior guard and tournament MVP told The Associated Press.
West Liberty entered the day averaging 101 points per game. The Kim Anderson-coached Mules wouldn't allow their opponent anywhere near the century mark, though, holding the Hilltoppers 24 points below their season average.
On Tuesday morning, Anderson — speaking to media and fans for the first time as the new Missouri coach — said his future Tigers teams will use a similar defense-first approach.
"It may be 2014, but smart, disciplined, hard-nosed team basketball never goes out of style,” Anderson said. “We play a team-oriented approach centered around defense.”
If his most recent season at Central Missouri is any indication, Anderson will try to turn Missouri into a defensive juggernaut. The Mules gave up 68.5 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting last season. They also forced opponents into 13.3 turnovers per game.
It's unfair to compare those numbers to Missouri's defense last year, given the difference in competition level for the two programs. But for the sake of perspective, the Tigers let up 69.7 points per game (164th in the nation), with opponents shooting 41.4 percent. The Tigers forced 10.6 turnovers a night.
Under Frank Haith, the Tigers primarily played a 2-3 zone defense, with their athletic guards up top.
Under Anderson, the defense might feature more man-to-man with some zone sprinkled in.
Ben McCollum, coach of Central Missouri conference rival Northwest Missouri State, offered his insight about Anderson's defense with the Mules.
"He doesn’t change things up a lot of the time, which I think is a good thing," McCollum said. "He’s not going to play 20 different types of defenses. He’s going to play man-to-man and a basic 2-3 zone. He keeps it simple. That’s what defense is about – keeping it simple.”
McCollum also addressed how Anderson's teams defend the pick-and-roll, one of basketball's simplest and most common offensive plays.
McCollum said last season's Mules switched the pick-and-roll — having defensive players change assignments on the fly when a pick is set on them — because their athletic big men could contain quick guards. But last year was an exception for Anderson, who typically prefers to hedge rather than switch. Hedging is when a forward or center momentarily contains a ball-handler until the player being screened can recover.
"He's not a switch guy," McCollum said. "He doesn't do a lot of switching."
Offensively, Central Missouri relied on a balanced attack. Three players averaged 12 points or better, while 12 Mules scored at least 5 points.
"We were definitely balanced," Central Missouri junior guard Preston Brunz said. "We shared the ball well. He preaches a lot about playing within yourself."
Missouri will need offensive contributions from a number of players if it hopes to replace Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross, a trio that combined for more than 70 percent of the Tigers' points last season.
Forwards Johnathan Williams III (5.8 points per game) and Ryan Rosburg (4.8 points points per game) are the team's top returning scorers.
Rosburg was one of two Tigers in attendance Tuesday to watch Missouri's new coach address the media. The sophomore, who attended Anderson's basketball camps as a kid, said he has always been impressed by Anderson's teams' ability to defend.
"They guard very solid," Rosburg said. "They don't take a lot of risks. They pick their spots to be aggressive but they're always making sure they're holding opponents to a low number of points."
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.