Missouri men’s basketball ended a two-game worse game with another ranked win – this one against No. 25 Arkansas on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers (14-4, 3-3 SEC) avenged their Jan. 4 loss to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a narrow 79-76 win to level up to .500 in conference play.
Now comes the Tigers’ biggest SEC test yet.
Missouri meets No. 4 Alabama at 5 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena. The game can be seen on SEC Network.
The Tigers, eliminated from the AP Top 25 after losses to Texas A&M and Florida, have a chance to speak out against a side that MU coach Dennis Gates said is even better than their No. 4.
Gates has said twice that he believes Alabama is the best team in the country. The Crimson Tide knocked off two — No. 1 teams that season: North Carolina and Houston. The Cougars just returned to No. 1 in the last AP poll.
Alabama (16-2, 6-0) is undefeated in the SEC game, with its only losses being an 82-67 loss to then-No. 20 UConn and a 10-point loss to Gonzaga in Birmingham, Alabama. The Crimson Tide brings a seven-game winning streak to Columbia, including a stunning win over Missouri’s youngest opponent – Arkansas. The Crimson Tide defeated the Razorbacks 84-69 on January 11 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The Crimson Tide, coached by Nate Oats, are led this season by freshman and five-star 2022 recruit Brandon Miller. Miller, who is being projected on multiple draft boards as a possible top-5 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, is averaging 20.1 points, the 20th-best grade in the country, while shooting 46.2% from 3 this season.
Miller also leads the team in rebounding with 8.3 boards per game. Alabama is a force on the glass and leads the country in 46 rebounds per game so far this season. Noah Clowney ranks just behind Miller with 8.2 rebounds per game and a 7-foot center, while Charles Bediako averages 6.1 rebounds per game.
The Crimson Tide also pounce on the offensive glass, creating second-chance opportunities, averaging 13.4 offensive rebounds per game, the 16th most in the country. Defensively, Alabama averages 5.6 blocks per game, ranking 15th in the country. Forwards Clowney, Miller and Bediako will make life difficult for the Tigers in the color by racking up offensive rebounds and creating points for second chances.
While the Tigers currently sit ninth in the country at an average of 84.1 points per game, Alabama has also shown this season that it’s capable of scoring in heaps. The Crimson Tide team is one place behind MU in 10th place in the country on 84 points per game. Alabama, too, isn’t afraid to rely on the 3 to win games. They are No. 6 in the country in 3-point attempts taking 29.3 3s per game, which makes up 35% of those shots.
Alabama’s weakness this season has been sales. The Crimson Tide averaged 15.2 giveaways per game and coughed up the ball 21 times in its two losses. Missouri’s pressure defense has helped keep teams uneasy all season — the Tigers are still the nation’s No. 1 in steals at 11.7 per game and forced 21 Arkansas turnovers on Wednesday.
Forcing another big-grossing game through the Crimson Tide will be crucial for the Tigers. Making Alabama awkward in the backyard will keep it off the offensive-class glass and turn potential additional Alabama possessions into opportunities for Missouri to pick up the pace.
A win over another ranked team would likely push MU back into the AP Top 25. The Tigers only allowed eight points for second chances against Arkansas. In another major test on the glass, they will have to show similar resilience.
Missouri also needs to prevent Alabama from getting decent looks from across the arc, particularly from Miller, who can score in bundles and take over plays.
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