Vanderbilt (8-9, 2-3) vs. Missouri (14-4, 3-2)
Mizzou Arena, Columbia, MO (15,061)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 85, XM 85
TV Talent: Tom Hart (pxp), Matt Doherty (analyst)
Vanderbilt leads the all-time series, 3-2
Last Meeting: Missouri won the last meeting, 85-82, in overtime at Mizzou Arena on 12/8/10
Record at Vanderbilt: VU leads 2-0
Record at Missouri: Mizzou leads 2-0
Record at Neutral Site: VU leads 1-0
Coach Stallings vs. Missouri: Coach Stallings is 1-1 against Missouri
MIssouri is 26-1 at home since 2008-09 under Coach Haith
Sagarin: Missouri (28) 90, Vanderbilt (113) 76
Pomeroy: Missouri (45) 89, Vanderbilt (145) 55
Vegas odds: Missouri by 10
Missouri enters the SEC as one of the more talented groups, and has established themselves as one of the few likely invitees to the NCAA Tournament Field of 65. But the Tigers have dealt with seemingly endless turmoil, and of course are also dealing the the fact that every single conference road game is a brand new experience. As a result, Missouri has struggled on the SEC road, having lost at Ole Miss (64-49) and at Florida (83-52) -- both utter blowouts in which Missouri failed to score a point in the game's early minutes and then faded from there.
Missouri will likely be the tallest team Vanderbilt has faced this year. Apart from 5-11 point guard Phil Pressey, Missou's starters go 6-9, 6-9, 6-7 and 6-5. And in the image of their former head coach Rod Anderson, the Tigers play fast on both ends of the court. While Florida is arguably the most complete team in the SEC, Missouri is arguably the most athletic.
MIssouri gets 84 percent of their points and 97 percent of their rebounds from players who did not wear a Tiger uniform last season. Chemistry, especially at the start of games, has at times doomed them to long scoreless stretches that have cost them in the W column.
One of their key newcomers is 6-9 UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi, who was eligible to play immediately due to the fact that the Huskies landed on NCAA probation in the offseason. Oriakhi is athletic and has a long wingspan, and is averaging 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds per game.
Diminutive Phil Pressey, at 5-11 and 175, runs the point for Haith. Pressey is a spark plug on the court, averaging a league-high seven assists per game. But Pressey also takes a ton of shots to get his team-high 12 points per game, and has at times played out of control. Pressey -- who is the only starter that has played an entire season at Missouri -- will give up about five inches and a whopping 35 points to VU point guard Kedren Johnson.
Laurence Bowers has been the team's leader, but is questionable again today. Bowers sustained a sprained MCL on January 8, and Mizzou has greatly missed his physical and emotional presence on the court. Also hobbled is 6-9 UAB transfer Tony Criswell, who when healthy is a terror on the boards. If Bowers plays today, things go from worse to far worse for Vandy. Bowers led Missouri in scoring in seven of the 11 games they played prior to his injury.
Six-foot-5 sophomore two guard Jabari Brown has taken over for Bowers and consistently lead the team in scoring. Brown has reached double figures in eight of Missouri's nine SEC games, at 16 points per contest. Brown is the team's most lethal outside shot, averaging 40 percent from 3, and more than three made per game. Vanderbilt's best defender, Dai-Jon Parker, will likely draw Brown, who did a terrific job defending Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson from the second quarter on.
Missouri is the third best rebounding team in college basketball, averaging an eye-popping 48 rebounds per game. When Criswell and Bowers have been healthy, Missouri has out-rebounded their opponent every single time. Coupled with the senior experience of Oriakhi, Missou is a nightmare match-up for a Vanderbilt team that is paper-thin on the front line.
Head coach Kevin Stallings made his move two weeks ago, when he finally decided he'd seen enough from then starter Josh Henderson. Though Henderson is the team's tallest player, he was maddeningly tentative with the ball, and too slow on help defense. Though recruited as a shooting four, Shelby Moats moved to the five and has been a rebounding and defensive positive. Since the move, Moats has added about five more rebounds per game to his box score, and has been a more alert passer to outside shooters.
Kevin Bright also moved to a reserve role, which opened a slot for Parker to start. Parker has still been wildly inconsistent as a shooter; At times he will drain a long 3, and then miss the next by two feet. But Parker "gets" the offense, moves the ball quickly when he gets it in his hands, and has been tough to keep up with on the fast break.
Bright, for what it is worth, has done well coming off the bench. He remains the team's most accurate 3-point shooter -- 50 percent in SEC play, which is best in the league.
Of concern for Stallings has been the inconsistent play of Johnson, something Stallings noted prior to their previous game with Auburn. Johnson is best driving his big body down the lane, but has somehow managed to disappear for long stretches. He's had 28 points in one game, and just three free throws in another. He's had eight assists and no turnovers in one game, and a near reverse of those stats in another. That has to change, and soon, if some of the younger players are to continue to gain confidence on the offensive end of the court.
Vanderbilt is coming off a fairly dominant win over Auburn, in which Johnson led four players in double figures with 15 points. Most notable in the win was the team's much better showing at the free throw line. Coming into the game, only three other D1 teams shot a worse percentage from the charity stripe. Versus Auburn, VU hit 26 of 30 from the line.
This one isn't rocket science. Vanderbilt gets 43 percent of their points from the 3-point line, and is the worst rebounding team in the SEC. Missouri is not only the best rebounding team in the SEC, they are one of the best in the nation. If Vanderbilt doesn't shoot extremely well from 3, they have no chance versus a Missouri team that, by the numbers, could out-score VU by 20 without breaking much of a sweat.
Missouri can struggle with game control, but if they are hitting shots -- which they almost always do at home -- they are virtually impossible to beat. The Tigers are reeling a bit from being dismantled at Florida, a team they knew they had to beat if they wanted to have any hope of contending for an SEC title. Coupled with their embarrasingly lopsided loss to Ole Miss -- whom they will face again in Columbia next week -- the Tigers are probably going to be chasing the Gators and Rebels for the remainder of the season.
Missouri is the kind of team that can beat itself. Even if they aren't hitting shots, they keep shooting. And shooting. And shooting. Obviously, that's when their rebounding numbers go through the roof, but when you play as fast as they do and aren't hitting shots, you are prone to getting blown out by equally athletic and better shooting teams. Versus Florida and Ole Miss, UofM shot season-lows of around 36 percent from the field, and bricked about 80 percent of their 3s.
With the decision to push freshman Sheldon Jeter into the starting lineup, and Henderson to the bench, Vanderbilt has become much more physical and confident on offense. But with all due respect, Auburn is probably the worst team in the league, and Missouri is among the best. Jeter will have to really have his head on a swivel on defense -- something he has gotten better at, but he still has to improve. Oriakhi, Criswell and perhaps Bowers, if he is healthy, will eat him alive on the boards if he doesn't play at the highest possible level today.
Bottom line is this: If Vandy is to have a chance today, Johnson has to control the game on both ends of the court, Bright, Odom and Jeter have to make the majority of their 3s, and somehow Moats and Henderson have to be respectable on the boards. And, they have to hope for a slow go from Bowers' return from injury.
I wish Missouri had joined the SEC last season, when they and VU had among the most talented teams in college basketball. Right now, this is a sizable mismatch in talent, and VU has fared poorly on the road in similarly raucous environs.
Missouri 85, Vanderbilt 70
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