It’s crunch time for Jabari Brown (32) and the Missouri Tigers. Mandatory Credit: Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports
For much of the 2013-2014 campaign, Missouri Tigers basketball has been two-faced.
One night the Tigers show up, they shoot well, play at least mediocre defense and they rebound. Another night, they look completely lost— they can’t hit the broadside of a barn from the field, they turn the ball over more than they score, and they allow teams to shoot (and make) perimeter shots at will.
As one could imagine, for the Tigers faithful, it’s been one frustrating season that began with promise. But alas, Mizzou is still in it. The tournament is there for the taking. They must round out the season strong. The 85-66 beatdown they inflicted on Mississippi State on Saturday to rebound from two tough losses was a really good start.
Tonight, in the home finale against Texas A&M, Missouri must continue on that same note.
Like Missouri, Texas A&M is a tale of two teams. Unlike Missouri, Texas A&M’s two sides are either good or really, really, really bad.
As much as Tigers fans feel let down by all of the inconsistency and inability to close out winnable games, Missouri hasn’t suffered nearly as much as A&M has. For Texas A&M, there’s the good: 7-1 at home in league play, winning big games against solid opponents like Arkansas, LSU and sweeping Tennessee. They also own a 5-1 record against top-100 teams at home, winning by an average of 8 points.
And then there’s the bad: 1-7 on the road— including being annihilated by a weak South Carolina team— a loss at home to North Texas, and a skeptical 6-4 record against teams ranked in the 100’s and 200’s. Their average margin of defeat is 13.6 points. They are one of only two teams to lose to Mississippi State since early January. And they’ve been burned by the Show-Me state already: a six-point loss to Missouri State (19-11 in the Missouri Valley conference).
I think it’s safe to say that the Aggies have had, quite literally, an up and down year.
With more emphasis on the down.
But if Mizzou wants to make it into the bracket, they cannot sleep on Texas A&M. Even with that theoretical play-in game against Tennessee this weekend looming in the background.
It won’t be difficult to stop the Aggie offense. Even on a good night, A&M plays very sub-par offense and can’t really shoot the ball with consistency. Scoring is certainly not their strong suit. They rank 310th in the nation in points per game. They aren’t horrible at ball handling and preventing turnovers, but they also can’t get an offensive board to save their lives. In other words, Texas A&M shouldn’t be putting up outrageous offensive stats. If they do, Mizzou has no business playing in any tournament to begin with.
But the Aggies do pose a considerable threat defensively. They hold a huge advantage on turnover percentages, meaning they will likely cause the Tigers to give the ball away frequently—although it doesn’t really matter if they can’t score—and they have what it takes to, at least somewhat, slow down Mizzou’s jump-shot obsessed offense. Ergo, it could be a lower-scoring game. This isn’t a game for Mizzou to have an off-shooting night.
With Tennessee squarely on everyone’s minds, this is certainly a time Mizzou can be caught looking ahead. Regardless of the weaknesses of A&M, the Tigers cannot come in and expect to win easily. It’s not that simple. Mizzou must play this game with the same energy that they had on Saturday.
Otherwise, it could be a long last walk through the tunnel at Mizzou Arena.
Where: Mizzou Arena, Columbia, Missouri
TV/Time: 7 P.M. CST, ESPN3
Prediction: Mizzou 68, Texas A&M 60