Missouri doesn’t need a win to start its 2021 postseason… but it wouldn’t hurt to get things started on the right foot.
Missouri’s 2021 postseason officially kicks off on Thursday night in the second round of the SEC Tournament, though it certainly won’t end there. In my mind, there are currently two competing schools of thought on how to look at the Nashville meet-up.
The first school has been addressed multiple times on Dive Cuts by Matt and Sam, and it goes like this: Maybe getting bounced early wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world? After all, this meeting of teams undoubtedly increases the chances of one team (or perhaps even multiple) getting sidelined due to a COVID-19 outbreak and potentially missing further postseason play as a result. Hate to break it to y’all, but the NCAA isn’t going to hold the tournament for any of us in the “southeast.”
Even though a loss in the first round puts Missouri in a tough spot regarding seeding, it at least gets them a winnable game in the round of 64 and minimizes the chances of a season-ending bout with coronavirus.
The second school of thought is much more traditional, and it can be summed up in three words: Just win, baby.
I suppose one can also hold both of those thoughts in tension and secretly find the positives in both. While there was once a point in the season where a deep March run seemed feasible, the Tigers haven’t been playing on that level in 4 to 6 weeks. They could turn things around at just the right time, but the likelihood of Missouri making it past the second weekend isn’t great. Why put even a bid at risk due to further COVID-19 exposure in Nashville?
But then again, Missouri has played well enough against tournament teams to suggest it can compete with the best of the best — after all, one of the likely No. 1 seeds has a loss to the Tigers on its resume. Cuonzo Martin’s team would have to really make a run to get back to favorable seeding ground, but it’s not impossible. A hypothetical trip to an SEC Championship runs through Arkansas, LSU and Alabama… all teams Missouri is capable of beating. Even just a trip to the final game might be enough to get Missouri back on a 5 or 6 seed line, depending on how they look over the course of the weekend.
Ultimately, it feels silly to dismiss the SEC Tournament as window dressing. Whether or not you think Missouri can make a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond, you have to acknowledge that Missouri has something to play for in Nashville. Better seeding, momentum building, the respect of a media landscape that has forgotten them almost entirely… all of it is on the table in March. And March starts in Nashville, whether you want it to or not. Might as well take advantage while you can.
Note: These starting lineups are projected.
For a full scout on the Georgia Bulldogs, check out our preview from the teams’ mid-February game.
When Missouri has the ball…
What to Watch | Who’s showing up behind the arc?
Missouri’s defensive failures had more to do with its loss in the first Georgia match up, but there is one thing that stands out in the offensive box score — the poor three-point shooting. Missouri, which has turned into a much more dependable jump shooting team over the past month, only hit six of 26 three-pointers, about five points under its season average. A scorching performance in and of itself won’t be enough to avenge last month’s loss, but at least having an average or slightly above average jump shooting night will give Missouri much more breathing room against a Bulldog team that historically struggles to keep up.
When Georgia has the ball…
What to Watch | How will Jeremiah Tilmon affect the paint?
Georgia actually shot underneath its season average for two-pointers in the two teams’ first meeting, instead using an efficient three-point performance to run away from Missouri. However, the Bulldogs were able to snag a fair number of offensive rebounds and 13 more free throws through its aggressive assault on the rim. Toumani Camara had himself a fair evening in the absence of Tilmon, putting up 15 points and 8 rebounds. With Missouri’s primary interior defender back in place, it’ll be interesting to see if Georgia has enough inside to match.
Missouri 79, Georgia 75 | Missouri should feel at least some sense of urgency headed into the SEC Tournament, at least to get one win and avoid an 8/9 game. That, plus avenging the Feb. 16 loss, should be more than enough motivation to put the Bulldogs down in this opening round game. The addition of Jeremiah Tilmon will help on both ends of the floor, meaning Georgia will need another hot night from three to grab another upset over the Tigers.