If there’s a glimmer of a positive side to Mizzou tipping off against Mississippi today 38 hours after finishing the Tigers’ last game, at least MU has an advisory on its adversary after playing the Rebels in Oxford on Jan. 12.
“It does help that we have a little bit of familiarity,” MU coach Frank Haith said.
And maybe in a certain sense it will help, too, that 21st-ranked Mizzou (16-6 overall, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) was drubbed 64-49 in that first meeting with Ole Miss (18-4, 7-2), unranked by The Associated Press but 23rd in the coaches’ poll.
“You think about revenge any time a team beats you, especially when it beats you by a lot,” senior forward Alex Oriakhi said. “I’m not going to lie to you: You want revenge, and you want to beat them back.”
Consider that the Tigers are 13-0 at home entering the noon game at Mizzou Arena and will have Laurence Bowers this time around after he missed the previous Mississippi game with a knee injury.
Logic may suggest Mizzou can expect to win today even as Bowers works to get back to 100 percent after three sluggish games since his return.
But the Rebels dominated MU before for a reason, harassing the Tigers into 19 turnovers and 37 percent shooting from the field.
And while it’s simple to surmise that MU has a sturdy identity at home that trumps its thus-far feeble alter ego as a visitor, it might be wondered if the Tigers can easily shrug off the 70-68 loss Thursday at Texas A&M — which dropped them to 0-5 on opponents’ home courts this season — and, in fact, just how good they really are.
As it enters the second half of the SEC season, MU is in a three-way tie for fifth place in the league, three games behind first-place Florida and two behind Ole Miss and Kentucky.
That’s not a shining profile now for an NCAA Tournament bid, particularly because the selection committee pays heed to how teams play away from home.
And even considering such developments as MU’s win over Illinois and, in turn Illinois’ over top-ranked Indiana on Thursday, there’s no assurance that if MU merely duplicates its 5-4 start in the conference in the next nine games that would make an airtight case.
And going 5-4 the rest of the way is a big “if” considering Mizzou plays five of its last nine on the road, including four of the next five after today, and still has to take on second-ranked Florida at home.
But first things first for the Tigers.
“Obviously, you’ve got to protect your home court,” Haith said.
Starting with simply playing better than it did against A&M, where the Tigers fell behind by 15 but overcame that … only to squander a late lead with exasperating blunders on both ends.
A&M’s Fabyon Harris hit the game-winning 3 with 11.1 seconds left after an MU defensive switch that wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Just bad communication on (Phil Pressey’s) part,” Haith said.
More glaringly, Pressey seconds before had given the ball back to A&M with an ill-advised pass that sailed over Keion Bell to the MU bench.
Pressey also missed an open 3 in the final seconds, perhaps not a poorly chosen shot in itself but one that served as a reminder he is shooting 18.9 percent (seven of 37) from long range in SEC play. And the shot came at a time MU needed two to tie.
Haith acknowledged those struggles Friday but also reiterated his belief in Pressey, the SEC preseason player of the year, who at his best is a thrill to watch but remains prone to wildness that can make observers apoplectic.
“He’s our guy,” Haith said.
Pressey is “beating himself up,” Haith said, but added, “We’re all at fault, not just Phil. … That’s what everybody remembers, the last possession, the last play, but it shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Haith hopes he can stabilize Pressey by getting him to relax more and focus more directly on defense, an area he needs to shore up considering Haith noted that Harris was just the latest opposing point guard to have his “way with us.”
Pressey is “a good defender when he wants to be,” Haith said.
Toward that end, Haith said, “attention to detail” is crucial for Pressey.
Just like it will be today for MU, which can’t take any game for granted if it wants to enhance its credentials to be worthy of the NCAA Tournament.