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The SEC's Worst Losses: Missouri

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If Vanderbilt loses to the last-place Tigers, the team's tournament hopes will vanish into the ether.

God willing, we'll get some McGloin time on Wednesday.
God willing, we'll get some McGloin time on Wednesday.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

After losing to Ole Miss on Saturday, time is running out for Vanderbilt to string together a season-redeeming winning streak. The next step on that journey will come in Nashville when the Commodores host Missouri on Wednesday night.

Simply put, if Vandy can't beat Mizzou at home, this team does not deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are the worst team in the conference. Their last two seasons appear to be an abstract tribute to the post-Stansbury era at Mississippi State. Missouri is 17-38 since 2014 and lacks the talent that had previously propped the program up as a hardwood tentpole in the Big 12.

Despite road losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss, the one thing Vanderbilt has avoided this season is a resume-crushing, soul-sucking defeat. The Commodores have taken care of business, especially on their home court. The team is 10-2 at Memorial Gym, and those two losses came against potential NCAA Tournament teams Dayton and LSU.

Vandy will have to defend that record on Wednesday night in what's become a no-win situation for the team. Beating Missouri won't add anything to their resume, and even the allure of a conference win is canceled out by the crushing consequences of a loss to the 1-9 Tigers. However, the Commodores can still use Mizzou's Nashville visit as the starting point for a season-ending run that propels a program once ranked No. 12 in the country back into the NCAA Tournament bracket.

So how does Vanderbilt beat Missouri? Here's how Mississippi State did it in late January.

Missouri (8-15, 1-9 SEC, ranked No. 191 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: vs. Mississippi State (9-13. 2-8 SEC, No. 102 KenPom, No. 177 CBS RPI), 62-76
Other Losses: Tons.

Missouri lost this battle between SEC basement dwellers after falling into an early double-digit deficit on its home court. The Tigers dug themselves a 17-point hole at halftime and trailed by as many as 22 before filling in that gap after many of the Mizzou fans had turned for the exits. They shot just 37 percent on the afternoon and handed the Bulldogs just their second conference win of the season on January 30th.

Point of emphasis: Balanced backcourt scoring. Mississippi State's four-guard starting lineup shredded the Tigers behind 65 combined points and a 23-43 shooting performance. Craig Sword and Quinndary Weatherspoon sucked the Mizzou defense inward with their drives to the hoop and created the space for a three-point shooting bonanza in Columbia. The Bulldogs' starting guards and wings connected on 47 percent of their long-range shots to effectively seal this game up before halftime.

Keys to the Game:

  • Opportunistic Rebounding. Mississippi State's two leading rebounders - Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready - stand just 6'4 and 5'11. The Bulldogs posted a +9 rebounding differential despite having only one starter who is taller than 6'7. Vanderbilt will have a significant size advantage on Wednesday, and corralling those rebounds will create extra shots for the home team.
  • Disciplined defense. Against MSU, Missouri had 11 assists on their 23 made shots - a number about on par with their 50% assist rate for the 2015-16 season (Vanderbilt's rate, for comparison, is 57.5%). A higher assist rate often correlates with easier baskets and higher shooting percentages, and Mizzou's sub-.500 showing lines up with its 37% shooting against the Bulldogs. If the Commodores can stay home on defense and cut off the Tigers' passing lanes, they'll be able to hold Missouri to a similarly poor performance.
  • Contain Kevin Puryear. Puryear is Missouri's most dangerous scorer, but with this Tiger team in shambles, that's like suggesting that burnt sienna is the most dangerous crayon or choosing the most vicious looking animal in a litter of baby goats. Still, the freshman has been a bright spot for Mizzou and his 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Auburn led the team to its only SEC win. Mississippi State, however, limited him to two points, one turnover, and zeroes across the board in every other statistical category.