Tiger Trouble?: Mizzou Stuck in Neutral

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The Missouri Tigers have played three games since losing forward Laurence Bowers to a sprained ligament in his knee, and the results have been less than ideal. The hope was Bowers could be back on the floor in time to take on the Florida Gators in Gainesville, but that didn't happen. The question of how much longer Bowers is going to be out, and what the team is going to do to try and fill the void, is an extremely pressing one. 

It's clear a different attack is going to be necessary if the last three games are any indication. Add in injuries to a couple other key players (Keion Bell, ankle, and Earnest Ross, back), and the Tigers look to be in real trouble for possibly the first time in Frank Haith's brief tenure as head coach. 

To be fair, the Tigers did take care of business at home against the Georgia Bulldogs sans Bowers, scoring a 79-62 victory, but in further fairness, Georgia is not good at all this year. The other two games, both on the road at tough SEC opponents, have resulted in lopsided victories, including an 83-52 beatdown by the Gators that frankly forced me to not wear my Mizzou footie pajamas to bed that night. 

The loss of Bowers was going to be big; we all knew that going in. When your best player hits the injury list, it's never a net positive for your team. But, in the three games the Tigers have played without their big man, the difference in the squad's scoring ability has been nothing short of shocking. The 79 points against Georgia was nice (again, see: Georgia, bad), but Mizzou managed just 49 against Ole Miss and 52 off Florida, against a season average of 75.5 points overall. Hovering around the half-century mark just isn't going to get it done against many teams, particularly when you play the style of ball Missouri does. It isn't the frenetic pace of the Mike Anderson teams, but this still isn't a team going to play slowdown halfcourt basketball very often. (Or very effectively.) Louisville can win scoring in the 50s. Missouri...not so much. 

I was not expecting the Tigers to struggle as badly as they have the past few games, I have to admit. I thought they would fight through, scrap a bit, and come out mostly unscathed. That doesn't appear to be the case, unfortunately. Part of it, of course, is the overall health -- or lack thereof -- for Missouri right now, but the bigger part is they simply have no other player to put on the floor who has the wide base of tools Bowers brings to the table. Tony Criswell is one tough SOB, playing through a broken hand and still providing raw physicality, but he just doesn't possess the offensive toolkit of Bowers. 

Through this down stretch, Mizzou has dropped to 22 in the polls, after being a solid top ten team for most of the early portion of the season. For the first time since Frank Haith took over as head coach, I'm really, truly worried about this team. Last year's early exit in the NCAA Tournament was heartbreaking, but it wasn't a game largely indicative of some overriding weakness in the team. It just...happened. The Tigers never looked to be in serious trouble last year, and seemed poised to make another run through 2013 in similar fashion. 

Now, though, unless this team can find an adjustment to make and get back on track in a hurry, I'm afraid this Missouri basketball season could end up looking a whole lot like the football season did. 

The Tigers are back at home tonight, taking on South Carolina in a matchup of two teams both hoping to get back on track. The Gamecocks are not a good shooting team in general, which is good news for Mizzou; the better news is the game being played in Columbia Missouri and not Columbia, South Carolina. Phil Pressey in particular will need to get rid of a sour taste in his mouth after scoring just two points against Florida. I expect him to do so and have a big game. 

Still, good news for tonight or not, this is still a team missing its heart and soul, not to mention 17 points and 7 rebounds a game. Full health can't come quickly enough for the Tigers, not unless they want to see this season slip away. 
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