Good Bull Hunting: In the midst of a generally poor first half of the season, the Tigers saw an optimistic run that included close quality losses (Ok St; Illinois) and a home win over LSU. What changed during that stretch?
Rock M Nation: It feels so long ago, but the Tigers started playing like I think a lot of people thought they would for most of the season. It helped that Johnathan Williams III (JW3) was borderline dominant during that stretch. He has the potential to be a 15 & 8 type player, and he was giving Mizzou more than that. They got the spark of getting Jakeenan Gant back in the lineup and he provided a spark. But more than anything this team was making shots. They aren't a particularly good offensive team, and offense has been a struggle all year, but when they get scoring from JW3 the outside shots seem to have an easier time falling. They were eventually beaten by more experienced teams in Illinois and Oklahoma State.
Last, against LSU I think they benefitted from the southern Tigers taking the northern Tigers for granted, and LSU played so disinterested. Which, I'm sorry, you just can't do that against ANYONE in the SEC much less on the road. So I think this is a team that made some progress, has since taken a bit of a step back, but I really do think the talent is there to be more competitive.
GBH: Which Tigers should A&M supporters keep an eye on during tonight's game?
RMN: The big one is JW3. He was a top 40 recruit a year ago, and has the ability to carry this team at times. Before their recent rut, he was drawing fouls and driving to the basket, and occasionally hitting outside shots. After him it's kind of a toss up. Montaque Gill-Caesar was the second leading scorer until he hurt his back against Illinois. He played a few games but was ineffective, then sat out three games and came back against Tennessee and wasn't very good. I'll be interested in seeing if he gets closer to his old form against A&M.
Missouri also can play their three points guards at the same time, and all three have the ability to make shots. The most dynamic is probably Wes Clark who is fast and strong with the ball, and a decent mid range shooter with some 3 point touch. Keith Shamburger is a 5th year transfer who has been a steadying influence on this young group, he's also capable of making shots and kept Mizzou in the game at Auburn with 5 3's. Last is the freshman Tramaine Isabell who is also capable of hitting big shots. He's also prone to turning the ball over. The problem with giving you one or two guys is that Missouri is a young team, and even those that follow them game to game, don't really know who is going to step up on a nightly basis.
GBH: What does Mizzou need to do to come out of Reed Area with a victory?
RMN: It sounds simple, but they need to shoot well. Missouri is good enough to muck up the game against a lot of teams and keep it close, they seem to do a good job of making other teams play poorly. So they just need to shoot reasonably well to stay in the game. Their best bet is to get good performances from their sophomores JW3 and Clark, get some contributions from Keanau Post down low, and have some perimeter shots go down.
I also think they need to be more competitive on the glass. They have a tendency to go small at times with the 3 point guard lineup and that limits their ability to rebound, but helps them get more valuable possessions. I honestly think that with the right mix Mizzou can beat A&M. But they'll need a lot of things to go right in order to do so.
GBH: Bonus question. Personally, I hated the basketball impact of our move to the SEC. The Big 12 home-and-homes within the division (and within the entire league post CU/NU) drove some quality basketball hatred that we just haven't been able to replicate. How do the Tiger faithful feel about year three of #SECBasketballFever?
I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that is excited about SEC basketball. I mean, it's fun to get to play Kentucky (well, comparatively speaking -- they aren't really FUN to play against) and I think most Mizzou fans secretly like that we will play Arkansas twice a year. But outside of that who cares about any one of these SEC teams? And no offense, but Mizzou doesn't exactly have fond rivalry memories with A&M either. There were a few games here and there but nothing I think either one of us would call a rivalry. The bigger problem with it has been the overall malaise around basketball in the SEC. For Missouri, I've been watching games at Gallagher-Iba, Lloyd Noble, Allen, Bramlage & the Hilton all my life. To go from these rocking venues to half empty places scattered around the south, I mean, that sucks.
Here's all you need to know, outside of Rupp, name the other recognizable venues in the SEC? I know the Walton Arena because Mizzou played games down there. Florida is one of the best teams in the country over the last 10-15 years, I don't know what their arena is called. Georgia? South Carolina? The only other one I could consistently identify is Memorial in Nashville and that's because that place is a travesty to basketball. I think I can successfully identify more arenas in the PAC, Big 10 and Big East. So it's basically like playing 10-15 games with Texas Tech.
Our schools just happened to join the SEC when football was at it's peak, and basketball was bottoming out. That just made it worse. I think it's getting better though. I think we just have to give it time I guess.
GBH: Final Score Prediction? Personally, we see it going 70-57 to the Ags.
I see this game being a back and forth contest for the first half, with A&M mostly in control but never able to get about 5-7 points ahead. Missouri will probably make a 2nd half run to either take the lead or knot the score, before a late (last 5 minutes of play) run by the Aggies gives them the separation to win. Final score should be something kind of ugly, I'll say Aggies 65, Missouri 57.