Auburn lost in horrifying fashion to a Georgia team that it should have easily beaten with a little bit defense and a little bit of patience on offense on Wednesday. Missouri lost to an LSU team that Auburn beat to open conference play. At least Mizzou gets to head home to host the good Tigers when the two teams meet for the first time ever at Mizzou Arena on Saturday.
Prior to the defeat at LSU, Missouri's four losses were to teams of a slightly higher caliber: Louisville, UCLA, Ole Miss and Florida. With wins again Ilinois (before the Illini were shown to be slightly overrated), and VCU, Missouri was expected to make quite the splash in its SEC hoops debut. Frank Haith's squad has experience, but most of it is not in a black and gold uniform as the Tigers welcomed four transfers before the season: Connecticut's Alex Oriahki, Auburn's own Earnest Ross, Oregon's Jabari Brown and Pepperdine's Keion Bell. Laurence Bowers missed all of last season due to injury.
Missouri is expected to start Bowers (6'8, 227), a senior forward, senior center Alex Oriahki (6'9, 255), senior guard Phil Pressey (5'11, 175), freshman guard Keion Bell (6'7, 200) and Brown (6'5, 205), a sophomore guard. Ross (6'5, 222), a junior guard, freshman guard Negus Webster-Chan (6'7, 200) and junior forward Tony Criswell (6'9, 240) should sub in early and often from the bench.
Bowers has only played in 15 games, but he leads the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game. He has made 104 of 181 field goals and 13 of 26 threes and averages 12.1 field goal attempts per game. Brown, also a solid outside weapon, is shooting 39.3 percent from behind the arc, 33 of 84, and averaging 7.6 attempts per game. Pressey, many pundits' preseason SEC player of the year pick, is shooting 36.6 percent from the field and averaging 11.9 attempts per game. All five starters make at least 70 percent of their foul shots.
Auburn is expected to start junior forward Allen Payne 6'6, 215), senior center Rob Chubb (6'10, 250), junior guard Chris Denson (6'2, 175), freshman guard Shaquille Johnson (6'5, 210), and senior guard Frankie Sullivan (6'1, 206). Regulars off the bench include senior guard Josh Wallace (5'10, 170), senior forward Noel Johnson (6'6, 205), and junior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 230). Limited playing time in the last outing went to freshman guard Jordan Price (6'5, 225), freshman guard Brian Greene Jr. (6'3, 205) and freshman forward Jordon Granger (6'9, 215).
Missouri averages 75.3 points per game, 9.6 more than its opponents. The Tigers are shooting 44.2 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from behind the perimeter and 73.8 percent from the free throw line. They average a whopping 42.5 rebounds per game, and hold a +9.6 margin over opponents, while limiting turnovers to 13.1 per game. Auburn has similar shooting numbers: 41.9 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from the behind the arc. The numbers that continue to haunt the Tigers are the ones that most often decide the game: a mediocre 67.2 shooting percentage from the free throw line and only 35.7 rebounds per game. If they can't match up on the boards, the good Tigers could be in for a brutal 40 minutes.
The broken-record prescription remains the same: Auburn has to defend the perimeter, do a much better job of pulling down defensive rebounds, foul less and perform well at the free throw line. This game has an added dimension in that Missouri has offensive weapons around the perimeter and in the paint. Auburn has the size to do better in the paint but for whatever reason, Tony Barbee's team has slacked off since a humbling defeat against Kentucky two weeks ago. Auburn's shooters seem to be in a terrible funk, but there's no better time like the present to get hot. Hopefully, the lesson was learned Wednesday to be patient on offense and create more high-percentage scoring opportunities by playing better defense.
If the team that played Georgia heads to Columbia, it will be a bourbon-fueled night for Auburn fans. If the team that played Florida State, LSU and South Carolina shows up in Columbia, maybe it will be a bourbon-fueled celebration for Auburn fans. Just have your bourbon in reach. You're gonna need it.
Tipoff is set for 12:30 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network, CSS and ESPN3. Audio broadcast is available on the Auburn IMG Network / XM 200.
"Missouri is a very talented team who has been ranked in the top 25 the entire season. They had a tough loss at LSU but are really playing well at home. They are really talented."
On playing at Mizzou Arena, where Missouri is 12-0 with a +19.8 scoring margin
"It is a tough arena and a great basketball environment. You can tell they feed off the crowd and push the tempo and play faster at home than they do on the road."