After finding themselves needing to win two games to save their season Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers are now directly in the middle of the bubble when looking at the NCAA Tournament picture. With wins last week over Alabama and #21 Kentucky, the Tigers are now sitting at 7th in the SEC with a 15-8 overall record. This position could have been higher but Mississippi State also enjoyed a 2-0 week and now hold a 17-6 overall record. Nevertheless, the Tigers should feel great heading into this next week where they are scheduled to travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss and then host the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Although it might not look it on paper the win against the Tide on Tuesday was possibly the most impressive win Missouri has on their resume this season. Looking at the game from Alabama’s perspective it was a home game sandwiched between two matchups with ranked opponents. The Crimson Tide were able to deal with Trae Young at home the game before, and they blew out Florida in Gainsville following their loss to the Tigers. It was a game many overlooked, which could explain the outcome.
The Tigers leaned on their defense throughout the game and controlled Alabama’s star Collin Sexton, who still managed to score 23 points while shutting down the rest of Alabama’s options. Sexton’s fellow freshman running mate John Petty was held to 5 points and went 0-5 from downtown. Kassius Robertson scored a team-high 22 points and Jontay Porter added 18 off the bench on 6-9 shooting.
There was no rest for the Tigers who headed home in order to prepare for a matchup with Kentucky. The history between these two squads still remains one-sided, Missouri’s win this weekend is the first over the Wildcats in program history.
The score was one of many similarities between the two games the Tigers played this weekend, but the one that Cuonzo Martin will be most proud of is the clear defensive mindset his team has adopted in their two-game run. The Tigers limited Kentucky to 31% shooting and 10% from behind the arc. There was only one person on Kentucky to score double figures, that was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who needed 16 shots to score 15 points.
The Kentucky win highlighted the maturity of the Tigers and was a perfect example of how playing to your strengths decides the victor of any game. Missouri did not try to run with Kentucky’s athletes or play an up-tempo shootout. They slowed the game down and made the young Kentucky squad play a more physical brand of basketball. This could be seen as the opposite of the style West Virginia played when they lost at home to Kentucky the week earlier.
For the Tigers, the past two weeks have been a microcosm of their season, which has yet to see sustained success. The pieces for a March run, however, are becoming more defined, and the identity of the team is clearly anchored in defense. Teams like Missouri are ones that people fear in March. If they happen to get to that point they will be one of the oldest teams in the tournament with a stingy defense that will wear down whoever they come across.
Now they must prepare for a tough road trip to Oxford which has never been an easy place to get a win. After which they need to focus their attention on Mississippi State who hosts Alabama tonight.