Since the Missouri Tigers defeated the Tennessee Volunteers at Mizzou Arena 75-70 on Feb. 15, the two teams have seemed to be headed in opposite directions. Following the game, the Tigers were considered a tournament team and the Volunteers were squarely on the bubble. Given each teams’ performance in recent weeks, roles have been reversed heading into the titanic tilt on Saturday.
Since the game between these two teams on Feb. 15, Missouri has gone 3-2, losing to Alabama and barely beating Texas A&M at home and having an overall +1 point differential. Meanwhile, Tennessee has gone 4-1 with a point differential of +89. Basically, Tennessee is playing like a team on a mission, the way a team on the bubble should be playing. Their counterparts have been playing sloppier than ever at a time in the season that they have to be playing their best basketball of the season.
Conventional wisdom would tell you that Tennessee is a lock to win this home game. While they certainly hold the advantage, don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. When so much is on the line, it can be anybody’s ball game. Missouri’s talented guards could step up and they would likely be back in the tournament field.
While they’ve taken some bad losses this season, with a win Saturday, the Tigers would have four combined wins over Tennessee and Arkansas, two of the main teams they’re competing with for a spot in the tournament. For that reason, this game Saturday is essentially an elimination game. Of course, the loser could possibly go on an unlikely run in the SEC tournament and secure an automatic bid, but speaking practically, the loser of this game is likely to be playing in the NIT.
With so much on the line even before conference tournaments begin, Missouri and Tennessee can already feel the pressure. Let the Madness of March begin a bit early this season.