Welcome to Playboy.com’s 2014 Bracket Challenge

The Missouri Tigers are looking to bounce back in the SEC and secure a torunament berth to the 2014 March Madness bracket
01/14/2014
 

Team Preview: 2014 Missouri Tigers

By: Jonathan Salmon

By the month of December Missouri was the only undefeated team in the SEC. This streak was eventually broken by Illinois in a heartbreaking 65-64 loss, but it was impressive while it lasted. As things stand now, the Tigers still have the best record of any team in their conference, holding steady at 12-1. So why is this team not being courted as the front-runner over the likes of Kentucky and Florida?

Frank Haith and his team have had a fairly easy nonconference lineup. One of their most important games was against UCLA, which they handled well, coming out on top 80-71. However, the question on everyone’s minds is how they will fare against the more difficult rosters within the SEC.

Strongside: This team has quite the big three: Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, all of whom can score. Clarkson leads the team, with an average of 19.3 points per game and shooting just below 50 percent (49.4). In a close match against North Carolina State, the sophomore finished with 21 points, while the Tigers squeaked past the Wolfpack 68-64.

Brown is not far behind, with spectacular efforts against Nevada, where he scored 24, and again against Long Beach State, putting up 22 points in 39 minutes. He has 18.4 ppg under his belt and a percentage from the field hovering around 48. The 6’5’’ guard is not one to shy away from dropping clutch threes either; he’s done it late in games against NC State, Long Beach State and even in the losing effort against Illinois, sinking one from beyond the arc with just 14.9 seconds to go.

Ross also puts up 14 ppg and grabs over six rebounds a game; that’s three players averaging 14 points or more a game, which is enough to help any team and allows them to spread the offensive responsibility around.

Due to the hype around these three, it is easy to forget Johnathan Williams III, but he has a large influence on the Tigers’ play within the paint. The 6’9’’ 225-pound forward from Memphis attacks the boards hard, pulling down over seven a game. In two games he went well above that, with 17 against Gardner-Webb and 15 in the Tigers’ win over 18-ranked UCLA.

Weakside: Missouri relies quite heavily on their three-point game, and when these shots don’t fall they have a hard time with their offense. We saw this against Long Beach, where they struggled to score because they couldn’t get a handle on the long ones.

The manageable nonconference play could be lulling the Tigers into a false sense of entitlement which will come back to bite them when they start games against their SEC opponents. UCLA is one of the only teams they have played so far that are expected to make it to the Big Dance, whereas there are plenty within the SEC that are favored to make it to the tournament: Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, just to name a few.

All Told: Frank Haith is still looking for his first Madness win with the Tigers since becoming head coach in 2011-12. Missouri has lost in the first round the past three years against Cincinnati, Norfolk State and Colorado State, respectively, so they have to be aching for the second round by now.

This team doesn’t have the skill to defeat the likes of Kentucky and Florida, but expect to see them in the tournament anyway: their nonconference record is good enough for them to simply play well the rest of the season and book their ticket.

As of right now, Missouri is the third-ranked team in the SEC, but watch closely because this could change drastically in the coming weeks.

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Born and raised somewhere in rural or urban Canada, Jon Salmon might have once been a cow herder in the American Midwest until he gave it all up for the glamorous life of writing. Little did he know that the career move would leave him economically destitute. If you see him, toss your dirtiest nickel or a half-eaten sandwich his way. All of his work is written with 1.89 litres of beer and a bag of dill sunflower seeds.

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