Hovering around .500 in the SEC is not great for an NCAA Tournament resume. Missouri could learn how damaging that could be as the Tigers sit on the bubble.
As the Tigers head into tonight’s game against Georgia, Missouri is entering the must-win territory of its schedule, especially after a loss to Alabama on Saturday. Georgia is not a threat to go to the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs are comfortable with the spoiler role, defeating bubble teams like Ole Miss and LSU in Athens in February.
Athlon Sports is breaking down some of the most vulnerable bubble teams as the regular season draws to a close, starting today with Missouri as the Tigers head into a key game against Georgia.
By the numbers
Feb. 25: at Georgia
Record: 19-8, 7-7 SEC
Why Missouri could be in the Tournament:
The Tigers have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league in transfers Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa), Jabari Brown (Oregon) and Earnest Ross (Auburn). The Tigers swept the season series against fellow bubble team Arkansas. Mizzou also is 10 days removed from a win over Tennessee. It’s tough to see the SEC garnering fewer than three NCAA Tournament bids, and Missouri has as much of a chance as any.
Why Missouri could be be left out:
Missouri’s team defense is dreadful. The Tigers rank last in defensive efficiency in SEC play on KenPom, a deficiency that led to Missouri’s worst losses of the season to Alabama, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia. Beyond a win over RPI no. 15 UCLA, Missouri does not have another win over a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Facing Florida and Kentucky once apiece this season — Mizzou lost both — deprives the Tigers of a chance for a signature win.
Missouri needs: To beat Tennessee
A season sweep to Georgia wouldn’t be a great look, but the road trip to Knoxville could be the key game if the Tigers win the next three. A win over Tennessee on the road combined with one win in the SEC Tournament might be enough to keep the Tigers in the field.
Missouri can’t afford: Losses to Mississippi State or Texas A&M
The Tigers are three days removed from their worst loss of the season to RPI No. 117 Alabama. Another loss to a bad team this close to the NCAA Tournament would be a trend rather than an aberration.
Insight from the beat: Steve Walentik, Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune
“Missouri missed opportunities to separate itself from all the middling teams in the SEC while too often coming up a little short on the road in league play. ... Missouri needs junior guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson at peak form down the stretch with only one other player (Earnest Ross) averaging more than 5.1 points in SEC play. The Tigers are also going to have to stop surrendering so many open looks from beyond the 3-point arc. They're giving up an average of 7.9 made 3-pointers during SEC play and have allowed five different opponents to make at least 10 against them.”