The Xtra Point: Missouri Continues To Loom In Bubble
COLUMBIA - After a key win against Arkansas, the Missouri Tigers will continue to prove their case for the NCAA tournament with the first of two matchups against Tennessee. If the Tigers win tonight, they'll move up another spot in the SEC standings. If they lose, it will give the tournament committee more of a reason to keep Missouri out of the big dance.
Jordan Clarkson is a point guard, but he isn't playing like one. The junior is only averaging 3.3 assists per game, but averages 19.2 points per game. He can't keep playing like this. If the Tigers want a chance to not only make the NCAA Tournament, but to be successful in it, they'll need ball movement. The Volunteers are great at defending the guard positions so Clarkson can't just count on jacking up random shots or making cuts to the hoop in double coverage. Ball distribution hasn't happened all year, and it needs to happen now. While he's currently projected to be a lottery pick in next year's draft, he could take his stock to a whole different level if he can be unselfish with the ball.
Missouri's frontcourt hasn't been great and they're about to face another tough challenge. Tennessee boasts forward Jarnell Strokes, who averages 14.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. The Tigers aren't a very good team when it comes to interior play. Ryan Rosburg and Jonathan Williams III have not proven themselves to be consistent shot blockers. If Missouri wants to win today, they need to have an interior precense. Rosburg and Williams III need to contest every shot and give Strokes pressure in the post.
This seems to be a consistent topic in this column, but the Tigers can't keep taking three pointers. Missouri shot 4/17 (23.5%) from three against Arkansas. It all comes back to ball distribution. The TIgers need to work to find the best shot. Missouri can't possibly think taking the three is the best consistent option. Williams III or even Rosburg can provide more low post scoring if they get the ball in their hands.
With today being a home game and with the way the Tigers have played recently, I would give Missouri the edge today. While I still don't think Clarkson will distribute the ball, I do think he'll provide enough offensive firepower to give the Tigers the edge. Earnest Ross will continue his solid play as the team's 3rd scoring option and distract the Volunteers from time to time. With the pressure on Frank Haith and the Tigers, I don't see them falling today.