This is it.
The swan song. Crunch time. The final word. The Missouri Tigers have one last shot to impress the judges before the voters decide if they are worthy. It comes to them in the form of a team facing a similar calling.
The Tigers travel to Knoxville Saturday to play Tennessee in what will essentially be a play off game for a trip to the big dance, and they’ve raised a lot of questions on whether or not they have what it takes.
The Volunteers face a similar circumstance: win and they’re in. Several other variables, including performance in the SEC tournament, and how the other teams finish their seasons have some say in the matter, but the head-to-head battle between Mizzou and Tennessee may turn out to have the strongest impact on whether or not Mizzou is spared from the consolation prize of the N.I.T.
While both teams are in comparable position as far as tournament chances, they differ in a few key areas that give Tennessee a leg up on Mizzou. The Vols are currently projected to make field of 68.
Mizzou is not. They have played like a tournament team over the past couple of weeks. Mizzou has not. They play more of a team game and they can rebound. Mizzou, not so much.
They hit three point shots. Mizzou is terrible at stopping teams that hit three-point shots. Tennessee creates turnovers. Mizzou turns the ball over. Tennessee is playing at home in a hostile environment– well, you get the point.
Mizzou is going to have to find a way to turn all of that around against the Volunteers and win against an above average team on the road, something that has not been their forte, to make the tournament.
That is not to say that it can’t be done. Mizzou has found a way to win games when they didn’t look so good on paper. And Tennessee has found a way to lose games that they should have won– as was the case in the first installment of this match up.
Missouri will need top performances from their stars Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, both of whom have played well lately, just not at the level they were earlier in the season. Both were lackluster in the first meeting with Tennessee– even though the Tigers were able to win. Tennessee also can take advantage of their inside play by getting the ball to their best player, Jarnell Stokes, a big forward who scores 14.5 points per game.
At 59.8-43.6 percent, Mizzou owns a better shooting percentage than Tennessee. This will need to especially be the case knowing the Tigers inability (refusal?) to rebound on offense. The Vols’ offensive rebounding percentage (43.2) is almost equal to their shooting percentage.
Thus, their lower shooting number does not equate to not scoring points. The most important element to winning a basketball game, defense, is pretty much a push at this point.
Both teams have been incredibly two-faced this season, beating better teams then losing to teams they shouldn’t lose to. Whoever has their stronger side show up, will decide who gets to play on CBS in March, and who has to play on ESPN.
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville Tennessee
Time/TV: 3 P.M., ESPN
Prediction: Tennessee 72, Missouri 65