Missouri basketball will need an impressive back nine in conference play if the Tigers want to make the NCAA tournament.
After finishing the first half of Southeastern Conference play with a losing record, Missouri (16-6, 4-5 SEC) sits on the bubble to make the dance, according to experts.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who runs the site’s Bracketology page, slotted the Tigers in his “Last Four Byes” section, meaning he predicts they won’t need to participate in a play-in game. The prediction came before Missouri dropped games at home to No. 18 Kentucky and on the road to No. 3 Florida.
Factoring in the Kentucky game but not the Florida game, CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm listed Missouri as “on the fence.”
“It's a relatively inoffensive profile, but far from secure,” Palm wrote in his assessment of the Tigers.
Missouri could add that extra security in its next four games.
The Tigers travel to Oxford, Miss., to face marksman Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss on Saturday. Last season, Missouri went 1-2 against the Rebels, dropping games in Oxford and at the SEC tournament.
Then, Missouri returns to Columbia to play three home games in one week. First, the Tigers welcome back former Missouri coach Mike Anderson as he leads Arkansas into Mizzou Arena, followed by games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
That home game against Tennessee, along with their contest in Knoxville, Tenn., on March 8, could be a good chance for the Tigers to boost their resume.
The Volunteers are the only team left on Missouri’s schedule currently in the rating percentage index top 50 at No. 40. The Tigers hold a 1-2 record against RPI top 50 teams, with their only win coming at home against UCLA on Dec. 7.
Palm listed Tennessee as “on the fence” as well. Two head-to-head wins could do wonders for the Tigers in the eyes of the selection committee.
Missouri posted a 16-6 record at this point last season and ended up making the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. The Tigers went 6-3 in their final nine games and then won their first game of the SEC tournament before falling to Ole Miss in the quarterfinals.
The Feb. 19 win at home against Florida last season gave Missouri a quality victory. The Tigers missed their opportunity to do that Tuesday night, with no teams in the top 25 left on their schedule.
The SEC tournament in Atlanta would then stand as Missouri’s only chance for a quality win. If the standings hold through to the end of the season, Missouri would play Mississippi State in the first round and Kentucky in the second round, so the opportunity could be there.