The SEC's Worst Losses: Missouri

Shabazz Muhammed and his ability to score from the wing was paramount in UCLA's win over Mizzou. - Stephen Dunn

This may be Missouri's first year in the SEC, but they're a familiar opponent to Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. Can the Commodores follow UCLA's blueprint to beat the Tigers?

Vanderbilt is riding a two-game winning streak, and a victory on Saturday would improve the Commodores to .500 on the season.

Unfortunately, they'll have to topple a stout opponent on the road to get there.

Vanderbilt will face Missouri for the first time as SEC rivals tomorrow evening, tipping off in Columbia at 5:00 PM ET. Missouri, who is currently ranked 22nd, presents the Commodores with their toughest conference matchup outside of a road game against Florida later in the season. While the 'Dores have been solid at home - nearly toppling Kentucky and Ole Miss before beating Auburn on Wednesday - they've been shaky on the road. Two of their 33-point outings have come away from Memorial Gym.

Frank Haith's team will try to recover from a blowout loss to the Gators and a closer-than-expected win over South Carolina when Vanderbilt comes to town. These two teams have faced each other twice in non-conference play in the last four years, with the two programs splitting the series. Mizzou can prove that they belong in the SEC and fan the flames of a budding rivalry against the Commodores with a big win on Saturday.

The Tigers have four losses this season, and all have come against respectable competition. Their overtime defeat to UCLA was one of the best games of the 2012-2013 non-conference slate, and it may have provided Vanderbilt with some pointers on how to beat this team. While the 'Dores won't be able to match UCLA's firepower, they may be able to learn a thing or two from the Bruins.

Missouri (14-4, 3-2 SEC, #22 AP, #22 Coaches')

Worst Loss: at UCLA (KenPom #47, CBS RPI #42) 94-97
Other Losses: vs. Louisville, at Ole Miss, at Florida

UCLA out-scrapped the Tigers in one of the most exciting games of the 2012-2013 season, winning an overtime shootout at home. Vanderbilt probably can't match the Bruins' scoring out put from this one, as UCLA outscored the 'Dores combined offensive effort from their games against Marist and Arkansas by 31 points. A balanced Missouri team allowed their opponent to shoot 50.6 percent from the field and wasted a 19-point, 19-assist effort from Phil Pressey in the loss

Pressey had a big night, but his 8-22 shooting performance underlies a bigger problem for the talented point guard. The junior, who leads Mizzou in minutes per game, is an inefficient gunner who can shoot the Tigers out of a game. He's barely averaging over a point per shot attempt this year, and his struggles helped curb an otherwise effective Missouri offense against UCLA. While it's true that he set up most of his team's easy baskets with a myriad of assists, he cost them nearly as much by forcing up bad shots.

Key to Destruction: Scoring from the wings. The Bruins scored 97 points in a shootout, and much of that offensive output came thanks to UCLA's rangy forwards. Shabazz Muhammed led all scorers with 27 points and the 6'10" Wear twins added 38 of their own. Muhammed and the Wears did their damage around the rim, getting into the paint and converting on high percentage shots.

Unfortunately, that's not an area where Vanderbilt excels, but the Commodores are getting better. Kevin Bright has developed into a player who takes the bulk of his shots from long range, Shelby Moats is still tentative around the rim, and Rod Odom has remained inefficient in the paint. The key to scoring off the drive may be freshman Sheldon Jeter, who has improved considerably as this season progressed.

Jeter has the quickness to get into the lane, but he's not big or strong enough to be a consistent finisher against a solid front court like Mizzou's just yet. If he can score against a frontline that includes players like Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers, he could have a breakout game that announces his arrival to the SEC.

Keys to the Game:
  • MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS. Wait, Vandy went 24-30 against Auburn and hit a bunch of key free throws down the stretch to avoid a collapse? Complaint withdrawn...for now. Missouri only racked up 17 fouls in 45 minutes against UCLA, so this weakness might not come to light in Columbia on Saturday.

    Still. Let's keep making free throws.
  • Feed Sheldon. Jeter gives Vanderbilt their best weapon to get into the lane and create easy baskets through drives or passes. His ability to read defenses and pass out of trouble and into an open shot isn't there just yet, but he's been an efficient scorer in limited usage this season. Since joining the starting lineup against Ole Miss, he's averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game with just three turnovers in three games. He hasn't faced a team as deep and complete as Mizzou this year, but his ability to keep his composure and draw defenders to the interior could be the key to a huge Vandy victory.
  • Don't force shots on offense, crash the boards on defense. Missouri is the 3rd-best rebounding team in the country (in terms of RPG) and dominated UCLA on the boards, 42-32. The Tigers have a big, athletic frontcourt that features capable glass-cleaners in Bowers, Oriahki, and Earnest Ross. If Vanderbilt jacks up bad shots, the odds of getting a second chance are slim against Mizzou. The Tigers are equally talented on the offensive end, so boxing out and pulling down loose balls to stifle their scoring will be a major part of any upset bid as well.
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