Sunday, January 27, 2013

After Auburn on Saturday, schedule gets tougher for Mizzou

Missouri is nearing the end of a welcome four-game stretch against very beatable competition, an anti-Murderers’ Row of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, LSU and Auburn. The Tigers are hoping to go four-for-four here and generate some momentum before the schedule regains some teeth.

Missouri (15-4, 4-2 in SEC play through Sunday) knocked out the first two wins last week in very different fashion. South Carolina, coached by Frank Martin, who was last seen by Tiger fans leading K-State to a win in Mizzou Arena last season, refused to back down. With some dreadful shooting by the Tigers, South Carolina nearly pulled an unthinkable upset, but Missouri rallied from a 41-28 second half deficit to get the 71-65 win.

The Vanderbilt game was much more aesthetically pleasing. Before a capacity crowd at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers were as hot as they were cold against South Carolina, using a remarkable 32-2 run in the first half to bury Vanderbilt en route to an 81-59 win.

On the heels of Wednesday’s game at LSU, Missouri returns home for a game with Auburn (12:30 p.m. on SEC Network, to be broadcast on a local channel, check listings). Auburn’s Tigers began SEC play with two wins, by five against LSU and by three at South Carolina, but the then lost four straight, including a near-upset of Ole Miss on Saturday. The Tigers (8-11, 2-4 in SEC through Sunday) are one of a whopping seven SEC teams, half of the conference, sitting at 2-4 in conference play to start the week.

Guard Frankie Sullivan leads Auburn in scoring, although he is making just 29 percent of his three-pointers through Sunday. Senior center Rob Chubb provides some scoring and rebounding inside. He can be a wild card, as he only had one point against Ole Miss, but still reeled in 10 rebounds.

Simply put, Missouri could play poorly against Auburn for long stretches, as it did against South Carolina, and still get the win. But after the Auburn game, that won’t be the case for a couple of weeks.

After Auburn, five of Missouri’s next seven games are on the road, and the two home games are, oh by the way, against two ranked teams that thumped Missouri in their own gyms, Ole Miss and Florida.
This stretch isn’t as tough as, say, what those brave squads in the rugged Big Ten have to deal with this season, but it’s plenty challenging. Here’s the rundown: at Texas A&M, Ole Miss, at Mississippi State, at Arkansas, Florida, at Kentucky and at South Carolina.

Missouri’s struggles have primarily come on the road, so this stretch of games could be tough on the Tigers.

But it could also be a great opportunity to pick up some quality wins and make a statement as March draws closer. Particularly if leading scorer Laurence Bowers comes back at full strength after missing multiple games due to injury, Missouri still has a chance to get a higher NCAA Tournament seed and have a great first season in the SEC if they can play well during this stretch.

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