A Recap of Mizzou Men’s Basketball So Far

With the loss of Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, and Laurence Bowers, many wondered how the Mizzou Tigers men’s basketball team would fare this year.  It would be the first year that head coach Frank Haith would display a team that is comprised of players that he recruited.  All of former head coach Mike Anderson’s players had moved on. However, with their starting big men gone and their point guard, would Mizzou be able to compete this season? This was the main concern for the Tigers entering the season: would they be able to replace the front line scoring and rebounding that they had last year. So how is the season progressing? With last night’s loss to LSU, the Tigers have dropped to 2-3 in conference play and 14-4 overall.  The non-conference schedule was soft, and produced a quality win over UCLA at home, but a frustrating loss to Illinois in the Braggin’ Rights game.  This is the same Illinois team that has now dropped four straight Big 10 games.  The conference schedule has produced what will surely look like a bad loss to Georgia at home, and a road loss to a mediocre Vanderbilt team.  So what’s the problem? It’s what everyone has been saying: the front line is not producing the rebounds and points that the team had last year with Bowers and Oriakhi. The statistics do not lie.  Last year, Alex Oriakhi averaged 11.2 points a game and 8.4 rebounds.  Laurence Bowers averaged 14.1 points a game and 6.1 rebounds.  This year, Jonathan Williams III, who is a freshman, is averaging 7.1 points a game and 7.4 rebounds.  Ryan Rosberg is averaging 4.5 points a game and 4.4 rebounds.  Coach Haith has publicly complained that the team is just not finishing strong at the rim.  Missed layups and inconsistent rebounding has put Mizzou in a difficult spot.  The guard play has been strong, but it’s not enough to make up for the soft inside play in close games. So, Mizzou is what its record indicates. Unranked and clearly with work to do if it wants to make the NCAA tournament.

Gamecocks, Tigers, and Gators, Oh My! SEC Tournament Preview

It’s time for the SEC tournament.  For some teams, this is a tune up for the NCAA, for others, its a last chance effort to get a bid to even go to the tournament.  This is where dreams are made, or where you are sent packing with the smell of defeat following you.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look.

First off are the bubble teams, mainly Kentucky and Tennessee.  After a building year, many were skeptical if the Cats would even make it to the NCAA, and that future is still up in the air.  Kentucky is without big man Nerlens Noel, which means other freshman are going to have to step up.

With the win over Florida last week, the Wildcats might be able to get a bid, but if not, they are going to have to win at least one game this weekend if they dont wanna be NIT bound.

Moving over to Tennessee, the player to watch out for is Jordan McRae.  He isn’t in the running for the SEC player of the year for nothing.  McRae finished fourth in the SEC in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game.  He is the reason that Tennessee was so successful in the back end of the season.  The Vols have won eight of their last nine games, which puts them on an upward streak.

The game to watch for will be against Alabama.  Tennessee must win against Alabama.  The winner of that game will be headed to the NCAA, while the loser will be senting packing to the tune of NIT.

Changing speed, lets turn and look at the two teams that could win the SEC tournament, Florida and Missouri.  Florida is obviously the best team in the conference, and was a possible NCAA champion contender earlier in the year.  But recent struggles during road games late in the season  has caused doubt to enter many fans’ minds.

Florida has Will Yegute back in the rotation, which will provide a much needed presence on defense, as well as offensive playmaking down the stretch.  The Gators have to win in the clutch, otherwise fans should be worried.  If Florida cannot close out easy games in the SEC tournament, this could foreshadow a short run in the NCAA.

Missouri is the only other team that has a definite lock on the NCAA.  Now, since I go there, I obviously want them to win.  But, there are some key elements that need to come together in order for that to happen.

First, Missouri has to play like it is at home.  If the road team Missouri comes out, the Tigers will be out of this tournament faster then they were in last year’s NCAA.  All of the Tiger’s road losses have been by three points or less, or overtime losses.  Missouri needs to keep its head and not make stupid plays in the final minutes of games.  And by Missouri I mean Phil Pressey.

Arguabley one of the best point guards in the nation, Pressey is the motor of Missouri’s offense.  The biggest thing for Pressey to worry about though, is to not make stupid passes.  He has to keep his head in the final minutes of the game and not be the hero.  Pressey also needs to limit his turnovers and to just play his game.

Second, Laurence Bowers is finally healthy.  The Tigers need to use that to their advantage and utilize his presence under the basket. Bowers scored 24 points in the last home game against Arkansas, and Missouri needs to make him a key part of its offense.

Another elemet to the offensive game for the Tigers is Alex Oriakhi.  Oriakhi has been a rebounding machine for the Tigers lately, and the more that Missouri can pound the ball inside to its big men, the better.

Overall, I don’t think that anyone has as much of a commanding presence as Florida does.  As long as the Gators don’t choke down the stretch, this is Florida’s tournament.

Mizzou Basektball Routes Arkansas on Senior Night

Senior Night.  A night where years of dedication and sacrifice are exhibited. It’s the last game on the home court, last game in front of the fans, and the Missouri seniors did not disappoint.  Led by Laurence Bowers, the men’s basketball team punished the Arkansas Razorbacks, 93-63 Tuesday night.

Before the game started, the three Missouri seniors were honored in front of a sellout crowd of 15,061.  Alex Oriakhi, Keion Bell, and Laurence Bowers were each given a framed version of their jersey as thanks for all the hard work and dedication they had given to the team.  But not just the senior basketball players were recognized.  The managers, cheerleaders, and Golden Girls were acknowledged as well.

Jumping into the game, it was close at first, but around the 11 minute mark, the Tigers just ran away with the game.  The Hogs never really stood a chance after that.

In the first half alone, Missouri out-rebounded Arkansas 26-9.  At the end of the game, the Tigers had dominated on the boards, 40-17.  The Tigers also shot 58% from the field.

Arkansas could not handle the sheer size of Missouri’s big men, or the defensive pressure, and had to resort to shooting three pointers for the majority of the game.

Bowers went out in style in his last home game at Mizzou Arena with a monster double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Fellow seniors  Oriakhi and Bell also had stellar nights, turning in ten points for Oriakhi and eight points for Bell.

After leading 48-22 at the half, Missouri continued its dominating rout of the Razorbacks, Jabari Brown contributing with 23 points on the night.

The lone Razorback that went into the double digits points wise was BJ Young, who had an impressive 27 points.  But even this didn’t help the Hogs as the Tigers butchered them, 93-63.

Following the impressive win, the three Missouri seniors addressed Tiger Nation; each one giving thanks to an organization that had profoundly impacted their lives during their college tenure.

Bell expressed gratitude for being welcomed as a transfer, saying, “ Even though I’ve been here for a short time, I feel like I’ve been here my whole career,” while Oriakhi thanked the crowd for an undefeated home season.

But Bowers final statement is the one that will resonate in Mizzou Arena’s walls for years to come.

“I love this place.  I’ve been here for five years, and its been a long journey.  If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely pick Mizzou.”

The Tigers do not play again until Saturday, when they take on Tennessee in Knoxville for the final game of the season.

Mizzou Upsets Florida in SEC Showdown

Revenge is often a dish that is best served cold.  Well, that is exactly what Mizzou handed the Gators Tuesday night as payback for the smackdown earlier in the season.  Clawing their way back form a 13-point deficit, the Tigers pulled off an ubelievable upset win, 63-60.

The key to this Tiger win? Two words: Laurence Bowers.

A month ago, Mizzou was demolished by Florida in a 31-point blowout loss.  The Tigers were without Bowers then, and their overall game greatly suffered.

In the rematch Tuesday night, in front of a sellout crowd of 15,061, Bowers proved he was the missing key component for Mizzou, scoring 17 points and grabbing ten rebounds.

Bowers was also a dominant threat on defense, limiting Florida’s Patric Young to just two points the entire game.

The turning point of the game was a three point play orchestrated by junior point guard Phil Pressey, which gave Mizzou its first lead of the game, 59-57, with just 2:51 to go.

Florida quickly answered with a three from guard Scottie Wilbekin to put the Gators back on top with a minute and a half left to play.

Mizzou just would not die thought, and with the cheers of its fans surrounding them, Bowers came through once again, sinking a jumper to make it 61-60, with 1:15 left.

After that, Mizzou held onto the lead and Keion bell made two free throws to seal the deal, winning the game 63-60.

Pressey had sevent points on the night, along with six rebounds and ten assists.  He also cut his turnover margin from the last time these two teams played against each other in half, from ten to five.

Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross were also key contributors to Mizzou’s success, with Brown scoring 12 points and Ross scoring 11 points respectively.

The Tigers are now 15-0 at home, and 30-1 under coach Frank Haith.

Mizzou travels to Lexington, Kentucky February 23 to take on the Wildcats in another SEC showdown.

Mizzou v. Florida Preview

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.

Mizzou Basketball Barely Stays Atop Gamecocks

In what looked like a Missouri team still hung-over from the disaster that was at O’Connell Center Saturday, the Tigers still managed to pull off a nail biting win against the South Carolina Gamecocks Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 11,830, 71-65.

In a game where both teams were under 40% from the field and Missouri was 18% from beyond the arc, watching the first half of this game was like watching a contest in a brickyard, because neither of these two teams could throw a ball in the ocean.  What saved the Tigers wasn’t defense, because there was next to none in the first half.  No, what saved Missouri, ultimately was free throws.

Compared to South Carolina’s 17 free throw attempts, the Tigers had 36, and made 28 of them.  That’s 19 more attempts and thankfully, 17 more makes that salvage an otherwise frustrating night on the offensive end of the floor.

Missouri played a lackluster first half, with dismal shooting by both teams, but allowed South Carolina to go into half time with an eight-point lead on the Tigers.  When they came back out to start the second half, it was more of the same thing, and it looked grim for Missouri.  With Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell out with injuries, and Phil Pressey in foul trouble, the offense just could not ignite.

Alex Oriaki and Earnest Ross were the keys that ignited the Missouri offense.  Oriaki stepped up in place of Bowers and had 18 points and 11 rebounds, leading the team with his sixth double double on the year. Ross went 21 and 10 and helped spark the 18-2 second half run that put the Tigers in control. But South Carolina would not go quietly. With a few smart plays, the Gamecocks came roaring back and the game was back and forth until the final minutes.

The M-I-Z-Z-O-U chant filled the arena as the fans tried to give energy to their beloved Tigers.

In the final minutes, Ross made a key three pointer on an assist from Pressey to give Missouri the lead, 66-63 with 1:12 left in the game.  After South Carolina stormed down the other end and Brenton Williams was fouled, he made his free throws to bring the gap within one, 66-65 Tigers.

Missouri took a timeout with 26 seconds to go and a one point lead. .  When it brings the ball back in, Pressey is unable to get the ball.  Ross finally broke open and drove hard to the lane, but kicked it out to Jabari Brown for the three at the last second.  Brown sank the three, giving the Tigers a 69-65 lead with 17 seconds left to play.

South Carolina missed a layup, and Tony Criswell was fouled with five seconds left.  He sank his free throws and the Tigers won, improving their conference play to 3-2, and overall record to 14-4. Along with Oriaki and Ross, Brown had a huge game for the Tigers, scoring 17 points and nabbing 7 rebounds.

Now, this is the second game in a row that Phil Pressey has underperformed.  Granted, he was in foul trouble most of the second half, but looking at the stats, compared to overall play and conference play, Pressey is scoring 12 points a game compared to just 7 points a game.  In conference play, he is 33% from the field, and 15% from beyond the arc, while in overall play, he is 36% and 30%.  With these stats in mind, in a league where aggressive guard play is a deciding factor, will Pressey continue to struggle?  If the answer is yes, this is a problem for our Tigers.  Missouri needs to get healthy, and it needs to develop depth.

The Tigers take on Vanderbilt next on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.