Missouri clips Arkansas in key matchup of SEC bubble teams

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It’s a question that has been asked many times over the last month, and it’s a question that will continue to be asked until Selection Sunday: who from the SEC, besides Florida and Kentucky, deserve a bid to the NCAA tournament? On Thursday night two teams in need of wins, Arkansas and Missouri, met in Columbia with the winner picking up a result that it sorely needed.

Jabari Brown would be the difference-maker as his driving basket with 10.2 seconds remaining gave the Tigers the 86-85 win, moving their record to 5-6 in SEC play. Brown didn’t have a particularly good night from the field, making just five of his 15 shot attempts, but he took full advantage of the foul line and the same can be said for his teammates.

Brown shot 14-for-15 from the charity stripe and as a team Missouri made 34 of its 38 attempts, outscoring Arkansas by five points in that area. Jordan Clarkson scored a game-high 27 points and Earnest Ross added 15 to go along with 11 rebounds, and Missouri’s three best players once again led the way.

The combination of points from the foul line and a 15-8 edge in fast break points proved to be pivotal for Missouri, which shot 4-for-17 from beyond the arc. Arkansas wasn’t much better from deep, making four of its 16 attempts, and they nearly left Columbia with a valuable road victory.

Ultimately the Razorbacks would once again fall short, leaving Mike Anderson’s team with just one conference road victory (Vanderbilt) to its credit. If they’re to have any chance of making the NCAA tournament Arkansas has to string together some wins. The problem for them, and for Missouri as well even with the Tigers being better-positioned for a tournament bid, is the lack of available quality wins in the SEC.

Of the remaining seven games on their schedule Arkansas has just one game against a team that will make the NCAA tournament, and that’s their game at Kentucky on February 27. As for Missouri, the Tigers won’t play either Florida or Kentucky again (unless they meet in the SEC tournament). Frank Haith’s team gets two shots at Tennessee, but the best that both the Tigers and Razorbacks can do schedule-wise is win their match-ups with other bubble teams.

And with this being the case, games like the one played in Columbia on Thursday night become even more important for the SEC teams looking to fight their way into the Field of 68. Thanks to Jabari Brown, Missouri was able to pick up a win that they needed to get.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.