The topic of Missouri Tiger basketball accompanies a feeling of general confusion in recent weeks.
Since winning 14 of their first 17 contests, the Tigers have dropped four of their last five ball games, with all four losses coming from unranked teams at the time — Arkansas has since skyrocketted to No. 12 in the country. Before their stumble, Missouri was considered not only a top tier team in the conference, but reached as high as 10th in the country.
Currently, Missouri only has two regular season games left on the schedule. They’re on the road against Florida tonight, then back home versus LSU on Saturday — both teams are ahead of Missouri in conference play and Mizzou may not be favored in either contest, so the Tigers are going to have to come out swinging in both games.
Missouri’s losing streak wasn’t well timed, but the one silver lining is they’ve shown what they’re capable of. They dominated Alabama for 35 minutes, beat a top five team in Illinois, and even handled the Arkansas Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena. But the Tigers have been a bit of a roller coaster to watch all season, and who says they can’t figure it out before the real tournament starts. Who says they can’t turn it around?
There are a couple of things that need to happen: First and foremost, Xavier Pinson needs to produce points on a consistent basis. X played a total of 26 minutes in Missouri’s last matchup versus Ole Miss, yet he only recorded two points on 9 shots. In Missouri’s first loss to the Rebels, he had only six points, and his numbers were poor in the loss to Auburn, too. He had eleven in the loss to the Bulldogs this year, but shot a dismal 1-7 from beyond the arc.
Though it’s not clear why Pinson is prone to such inconsistent levels of play, it’s certain that Missouri typically loses when he’s not on. “He’s at his best when he’s going north to south,” Coach Cuonzo Martin said in a previous interview.
While he’s been quiet as of late, Pinson is, at times, Missouri’s most dangerous threat from deep as well. He had a career high eight three pointers in Missouri’s win over TCU earlier this year, a game in which he virtually won for the Tigers singlehandedly (though with a strong assist from Jeremiah Tilmon). There was also his performance in this year’s rematch versus Tennessee, a night in which he led all scorers with 27 on 10-14 shooting from the field. In that night’s post-game interview, Pinson mentioned how his level of play is “all a mental thing.”
You hope he figures out what he needs to do offensively.
Another problem the Tigers are currently suffering from lies on the defensive end — they are giving up too many easy baskets. When Missouri struggles to get things going on offense they need to be able to rely on their defense, and lately it hasn’t been there with consistency.
The Tigers currently have seven losses on the year — over half of them are in games which they’ve allowed eighty or more points. “We want to be tough on the defensive end,” Martin mentioned in the post-game following an 82-88 loss on the road at Auburn. But the once defensive-minded grit squad Martin assembled is no longer itself.
At this point in the season, especially with how the Tigers have been playing, there is little margin for error. Losing the last two regular season games won’t drop them out of the tournament but could mean dropping below a favored seed.
Martin needs to help his team find the inspiration they played with earlier this season if they want to avoid getting bounced early in the tournament.