Missouri Set to Enter a Season-Defining StretchPosted by Greg Mitchell on January 24th, 2014
Missouri’s NCAA chances will be decided in the next two weeks. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but how the Tigers do in their upcoming five games will play a gigantic role in whether they receive a school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament invite this season. South Carolina visits Columbia on Saturday, but after that the Tigers face the Gamecocks, they will go through about as difficult a four-game stretch as there is in the current edition of the SEC. Here are the games:
- January 28: at Arkansas
- February 1: Kentucky
- February 4: at Florida
- February 8: at Ole Miss
Even the South Carolina game, struggling as the Gamecocks are, might not be a layup since Frank Martin has abused Missouri in the past. Before losing to Georgia two weeks ago, the last time the Tigers lost in Mizzou Arena was to Martin’s Kansas State team in 2011-12. The problem for Missouri isn’t just that they’re 2-3 in SEC play and about to enter a brutal stretch. The bigger issue is that after the February 8 game in Oxford, there isn’t another good opportunity for a truly eye-grabbing win left on the schedule. Sure, there are two games against Tennessee remaining, but the Volunteers have been up-and-down. Wins at Alabama or Georgia don’t spruce up a resume much either this season.
Frank Haith is essentially about to enter a make-or-break portion of the season, and it isn’t because of Tuesday’s loss at LSU. The (Bayou) Tigers are a good team, and the (Show-Me) Tigers did a nice job frustrating Johnny O’Bryant in the second half of that one. College basketball is largely about match-ups and Jordan Mickey’s interior presence (five blocks, 13 rebounds) was tough on a team that relies almost entirely on its guards getting to the rim. Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross are all good players, with each reaching double figures in all 18 games this year. All-time Mizzou great Kareem Rush was the last to have that many consecutive double-figure games (2000-01), illustrating the Tigers’ heavy reliance on the trio. No, Missouri’s understandable loss in Baton Rogue isn’t hurting them; it’s the losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt that created this precarious spot the team finds itself in. The short of it is that if the Tigers don’t at least split that difficult four-game stretch, the committee will have to look long and hard for quality wins on their resume.
Winning at North Carolina State looked good at the time, but since then the Wolfpack have gone 3-4 and gotten blown out by more than 30 points on two different occasions. The UCLA win is certainly solid, but isn’t enough on its own to prop up the Tigers’ overall resume. Even if Missouri were to win the games at Arkansas and Ole Miss, it might not be enough to sway the decision-makers without a very strong SEC record as well. To truly feel comfortable again, Missouri would seemingly have to beat either Kentucky or Florida and win one of the other two road games. That’s a tall task for a team that has seriously struggled away from Mizzou Arena (3-9) since joining the SEC at the start of last season.