At 12-1, the No. 25 Missouri Tigers enter conference play with the best finish to a non-conference schedule in the SEC. With their lone loss coming by one to the Illinois Fighting Illini, the Tigers have rolled through their fairly easy non-conference schedule with a resume boosting win over the UCLA Bruins and good wins against the West Virginia Mountaineers, North Carolina State Wolfpack and Hawaii Warriors.
The Tigers’ success is due in large part to their multitude of scoring talent. Transfer Jordan Clarkson, who averages over 19 points a game, is the second leading SEC scorer, Earnest Ross averages 14 points and nearly seven rebounds, and Jabari Brown averages over 18 points a game. While much of the focus is on those three players, you can’t forget about freshman Johnathan Williams III, who has two games already this season with 15 or more rebounds.
Because of their non-conference success, Missouri will come into SEC play confident, knowing that a decent performance means an easy trip to the 2014 NCAA Tournament. However, because of the easiness of their schedule and the toughness of the SEC, the Tigers most likely won’t win the conference. Far too dependent on threes, the defensively talented SEC teams will cause Missouri to struggle unless they kick it into a gear that they didn’t show in non-conference play.
As evidenced in their last non-conference game against the Long Beach State 49ers, when Missouri struggles offensively, they become susceptible to losing. The Tigers beat Long Beach State 69-59, but most likely would have lost if not for the 49ers’ poor shooting and lack of talent. Although you shouldn’t expect Missouri to have many off games offensively, one bad game against an SEC opponent like the Tennessee Volunteers, Alabama Crimson Tide or LSU Tigers will result in a loss.
Don’t expect Missouri to defeat teams like the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators, but you can still expect the Tigers to finish in the top five of the SEC and make it to the 2014 NCAA Tournament with ease. Who knows, this season might be the year that head coach Frank Haith finally wins an NCAA tournament game with Missouri.