As February draws to a close, in the majority of the nation, so does the cold weather, and we get ready for spring. But in Missouri, its predicted to snow on Wednesday and a cold front is coming in. Typical Missouri, where nothing is what it seems. This applies to our weather, and to our Missouri Tigers, who take on the Florida Gators Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena in what is the biggest game of the season.
On a side note, this game is extremely personal to me. I have grown up watching and cheering for the Florida Gators since I was six years old. I have bleed orange and blue for as long as I can remember. My grandfather played football for the Gators, my dad went there, and my sister is a freshman there now. I transferred to Missouri last year, and fell in love with the Tigers. Now, instead of bleeding orange and blue, I bleed black and gold. So, when my two favorite teams take the stage tomorrow night in the most epic game of basketball in my entire life, it will be an emotional one.
The last time these two teams met, it was like watching a game of Wack-A-Mole. The Tigers were the moles. Florida completely flattened Missouri, 83-52. The Gators held star point guard Phil Pressey to two points, and caused him to have ten turnovers. Alex Oriakhi only had four points and two rebounds, and the only two Tigers to make it into the double digits were Keion Bell with 14 points, and Jabari Brown with 16 points.
As I stated before, this is the biggest matchup of the year for Missouri. Had the Tigers won against Arkansas, a win over Florida, who many consider to be a one seed in the tournament, could have changed tournament seeding for Missouri. Now, since they lost to Arkanas, the Tigers are on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. They need to close out conference play with wins in four out of the five games left. Sitting at 7-6 in the SEC, Missouri needs at least 11 to 12 wins in order to be considered for the NCAA Tournament.
Now, although Florida beat Missouri like a steel drum the last time the teams faced off, these are not the same teams from January 19th.
During that matchup, the Tigers were without forward Laurence Bowers, which left a huge hole in the Tigers game plan. Bowers averages 15 points a game. With him back, he adds a whole new dynamic to Missouri’s offense. Look for the Tigers to feed it to him down in the post. Missouri has to get the ball inside, and try and get Patric Young and Erik Murphy in foul trouble. Pressey has got to utilize Bowers and Oriakhi if Missouri wants to win.
Florida is without versatile forward Will Yequete, who is a key defender at the top of the key. Yequete had 13 points against the Tigers in January, and with him out, that leaves a huge hole in the Gator defense as to who will take on Keion Bell. Bell is averaging 21 points a game this month, and will be a huge asset to Missouri if he can connect with Pressey and Bowers.
Speaking of Phil Pressey, he needs to redeem himself. He is one of the most talented point guards that I had seen in a while, and in order for Missouri to win this game, Pressey is going to have to, to be cliché and quote High School Musical, get his head in the game. Pressey needs to be able to beat the swarming, big guard defense that Florida loves so much. The Gators have held 11 opponents to 50 or fewer points this season, and rank third in the nation in scoring defense, with 52.6 points per game. With that being said, will Pressey, at 5’10, be able to play against the big guards like Wilbekin and Rosario on Tuesday? He is going to have to step up and be the player that analysts predicted would be the SEC player of the year in the pre season. Without Pressey being a threat, Florida will chomp Missouri to bits.
The thing that pained me the most about the last matchup between these two teams was how Florida jumped to an early lead, and then for the rest of the game, you had to watch Missouri painfully try to claw its way back within reach. But in reality, you knew there was no hope for the Tigers.
So on Tuesday, it is crucial that Missouri get out early. It must get on the board before the Gators, and create momentum and adrenaline for themselves and the fans. Use the home court advantage! Missouri is 12-0 at home. If the Tigers allow Florida to get out early, they stand no chance.
Missouri has to utilize Bowers and Oriakhi, as well as Earnest Ross, who has been a key player for Missouri off the bench. Pressey must connect with his teammates, not make stupid, fancy passes that result in unnecessary turnovers, and he has to get the ball inside to Bowers.
Now, while the smart move would be to pick the No. 5 Florida Gators, I have always been a fan of upsets. And seeing since this is the most bizarre college basketball season ever, I always enjoy stirring the pot. I mean, look at this season. No number one team besides Indiana has been able to hold that title for more than a week. With that in mind, I think, if Missouri can get Pressey out of his slump and come out early and strong, and make sure to utilize Bowers and Oriakhi, the Tigers pull a stunning upset, 66-64.