Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Revisiting Missouri's expectations after bad Florida loss

This was a beatdown, the type of “Welcome to the SEC” moment we thought would be in the domain of football, not basketball. Missouri was hammered 83-52 at Florida last Saturday, the second straight Saturday spoiled by the Tigers getting shellacked on the road.

Florida (14-2, 4-0 in SEC play through Sunday raced to an 11-0 lead as its worked-up crowd roared and Missouri (13-4, 2-2 in SEC play) again began a road game with a prolonged scoring drought. It took the Tigers nearly three and a half minutes to score, and for the second road game in a row Missouri failed to accumulate 10 points in the game’s first 10 minutes.

Florida’s high-energy defense forced 21 Tiger turnovers. Missouri shot just 32.7 percent, while Florida scorched the nets with a 59.3 percent shooting clip.

Jabari Brown had 16 points for the Tigers, but he just, ahem, required 18 shots to reach that total. Phil Pressey, hyped before in this column and capable of great things, was a mess, making just one of his seven shots while racking up 10 turnovers.

Now, I don’t want to be too bleak here, because playing a top-10 team on the road is tough and Missouri was playing without injured forward Laurence Bowers. Plus, Florida was no doubt riled up for a national TV game against a rare ranked SEC opponent.

Still, Bowers wouldn’t have made up a 31-point difference, and this was just an awful game any way you look at it. Missouri looked unprepared for Florida’s pressure and intensity, and the Tigers seemed to have little fight once the Gators landed the early haymakers.

So what remains for this team and this season after the smoldering ruins of this embarrassing loss? This team still has potential, but it’s probably fair to lower expectations for now. Fans had hoped for a Final Four contender, which is still possible, but the team’s play likely has them barreling toward the neighborhood of a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would probably mean an upset would be needed just to get to the Sweet Sixteen.

Two weeks ago, I predicted Missouri would go 15-3 in SEC play. With the SEC down, I didn’t see that as too optimistic. But in the cold light of reality and Missouri’s 0-3 record in true road games, let’s scramble the numbers and call 13-5 a reasonable goal.

Following Florida, Missouri embarks on a run of four games against bad teams (South Carolina, Vanderbilt, at LSU, Auburn). A 4-0 run is likely, even if beating these teams won’t boost the Tournament resume much. But winning these and getting Bowers healthy could give the Tigers some positive momentum heading into a stretch of tougher games that follow.

The game with Vanderbilt (4 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU) is one the Tigers should win comfortably, even if the Commodores (7-9, 1-3 in SEC through Sunday) pushed Kentucky and Ole Miss to the brink at home before losing both of those games in maddening fashion. Guard Kendren Johnson, Vandy’s leading scorer, is a good player, but Missouri should have far more offensive firepower than the Commodores, especially at Mizzou Arena.

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