Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Missouri heads into its first SEC Tournament

Missouri heads to Nashville this week for its first SEC Tournament. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Tigers, who finished the regular season at 22-9 overall and 11-7 in SEC play, earning the 6 seed in the conference tournament.

Missouri was unbeaten at home, but struggled mightily on the road, even in the weak SEC. The Tigers went 2-7 in SEC road games, 2-8 overall on the road, and the many close losses left fans wondering what could have been in this first SEC season.

Missouri’s last road loss, at Tennessee last Saturday, was like plenty of the others. It was close and Missouri had some bad possessions late, notably yet another horrible Phil Pressey missed three-pointer, this one an air ball that prompted an eruption of wrath from coach Frank Haith.

This road loss was unique in that the Tigers, a pretty good rebounding team, got beat soundly on the glass by the hungry Volunteers, a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. Behold, the power of a desperate home team.

Now Missouri heads back to Tennessee, this time to the Music City, for the conference tournament. It’s a jolt from the tradition and familiar faces of the Big 12 Tournament, but with multiple teams jockeying for NCAA Tournament position and plenty of flawed-but-capable teams, this SEC Tourney could be fun.

But just so you feel at home, Missouri will likely open against fellow ex-Big 12 member Texas A&M, assuming the Aggies get by woeful Auburn Wednesday night. Missouri faces the A&M-Auburn winner at 9 p.m. on Thursday (SEC Network).

Should the Tigers win, they get the rubber match with Mississippi, the three seed, at 9 p.m. on Friday (SEC Network). The Rebels won big at home against the Tigers, who were without senior forward Laurence Bowers; Missouri returned the favor with a big home win over Ole Miss that included a near-fight. This game could have some edge.

Should the Tigers keep advancing, they would play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the semifinal (ABC), and then the championship is at noon Sunday (ABC).

Frankly, pretty much nothing Missouri would do in Nashville would be a huge surprise. They’ve lost to Texas A&M already this season and have had some flops. But, if the tournament follows the seeding, Missouri would need to beat Texas A&M, Mississippi, Kentucky and Florida to win it. Missouri has wins over two of those teams, and lost close road games to Texas A&M and Kentucky, so winning the whole thing isn’t impossible.

But being a six seed makes the road tougher. Missouri would need to win four games in four days. The Tigers won two of their last four Big 12 Tournaments, but each required just three wins in three days thanks to byes. Missouri twice played four games in four days in the Big 12 Tournament, but ran out of gas both times, losing the championship game.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Tigers play deep into the weekend, at least to Saturday’s semifinals. But with the ups and downs this team has shown, maybe write that in pencil.

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