WHO: South Carolina Gamecocks (7-11, 0-5) at Missouri Tigers (14-4, 2-3)
WHEN: 3 p.m.
KENPOM PREDICTION: Missouri 79, South Carolina 68
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Missouri absolutely cannot afford to lose this game if they want to remain in the thick of the SEC and NCAA hunt. The Tigers already have a one bad loss at home to Georgia, and a second loss to an even worse South Carolina team would be a killer.
Here is the reality Missouri is now faced with over the next month of the season: They are 2-3 in a weak SEC conference, will be underdogs in six of their next eight games after South Carolina on Saturday, and could be one bad week away from being cast from the bubble to the NIT.
After South Carolina – a team they should thoroughly wallop Saturday afternoon – Missouri enters a point of no return where they cannot make a mistake. Their next three of their next four games are on the road with the one home game being against Kentucky. It is not out of the question Missouri could be swept during that stretch, which means the Tigers will almost have to win-out if they want to make the NCAA tournament.
For the Tigers to get back on track someone is going to have to start producing something in the paint. In conference play, the Tigers are shooting a horrifying 40.4% from two-point range. Jabari Brown is shooting better from three-point range (53.1%) in the last five games than any other player is shooting from the field (Johnathan Williams is shooting 44.8%). In fact, only Brown, Williams, and Jordan Clarkson are shooting over 40% from the field in SEC play.
Part of this problem stems from something Tom Fontana brought up earlier in the week: Mizzou has nothing in terms of quality point guard play. Clarkson has had positive moments at the point, but when he is off the court there is nobody left on the team who can run the offense. Wes Clark has to start producing something when he is on the court.
And this brings up to Missouri’s other problem – the team has no depth. Brown has played in 91.3% of the team’s minutes this season. Clarkson has played in 83.9%. Earnest Ross is at 78.1%. Only one other player at a BCS school has played a higher percentage of his team’s minutes than Brown and that’s Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins. Only three players at BCS schools have played over 90%. There simply are not very many good teams that have three guys playing 31 minutes per game. What happens when Brown, Clarkson, and Ross lose their legs due to being tired? Who is going to step up for this team?
Turning things around is not going to be easy if the Tigers cannot find some kind of production from their bench and secondary players. This will especially be true if they want to find a way to steal a win at Arkansas, Florida, or Mississippi. Saturday would be a good time for some of the Tigers’ role players to start building some confidence.