Historically, the Missouri Tigers and Auburn Tigers have had two very different basketball programs. Under the command of Bruce Pearl, Auburn has been a powerhouse SEC contender, that as recent as 2019, made the Final Four.
On the opposite end, Missouri has never strongly contended in the SEC. Additionally, they have not gotten past the second round of the NCAA tournament since the 2008-2009 season. That said, this season has been quite different and heading into their matchup tonight at 8 p.m. ET, Missouri is ranked 12th in the nation with a (10-2) record while Auburn is unranked and (9-7).
Missouri Surpassing Expectations
Coming into the season, most said the outlook was bleak for the Tigers. Head coach Cuonzo Martin entered his fourth year with the team, and attempted to change the programs outlook with star recruits such as Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter. However, they had fallen short. Last year, the team ended sub .500 as a whole at 14-15 and 7-11 in conference play. While the public was sure the Tigers would struggle this season, that was far from the belief of the players. In years prior, even while playing poorly, Martin’s team remained unfazed. Always, they played fast, hard and with a high level of tenacity.
Now, the results are starting to show, and the team is winning, a lot. The Tigers entered the season unranked, but after a mere twelve games, they have clawed their way up the polls to reach No. 12. To this point, they have already beaten three ranked teams: Oregon, Illinois and Tennessee. Additionally, they currently rank second in the SEC standings and are attempting to win the conference for the first time in program history. If they are able to maintain their recent level of play, Auburn could be in trouble for tonight’s game.
Auburn Catching their Stride
Sharife Cooper. Unfortunately, as a result of Auburn’s widely discussed recruiting violations, Cooper missed the Tigers first twelve games. As a result, the team limped to a 6-5 start with his presence clearly being missed. That said, Cooper returned to the court on Jan. 9 when the Tigers played the Crimson Tide. His impact was immediate. Although Auburn lost the game, the team played well with Cooper a member and now, the Tigers are 3-1 in their last four games.
Since returning, Cooper has averaged 21.2 points and nine assists leading the team in both categories. Fortunately for the Tigers, they have plenty of time to turn things back around. Additionally, they have a lot of firepower coming up on their schedule giving them opportunities to make statement wins. Tonight, they face 12th ranked Missouri. Moving forward, they will play No. 2 Baylor, No. 18 Tennessee and No. 9 Alabama.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the will not be participating in the postseason as a result of their recruiting violations, but that does not mean they can’t turn their season around and build for the future. It all starts tonight against Missouri.
— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) January 23, 2021
Pace of Play
Amongst many, the main key to tonight’s game for both teams is pace of play. With Cooper at the helm, the Tigers offense is electric and plays at a lightening quick pace. Fortunate for Missouri, they often like to do the usually running in transition and playing quickly. If Missouri can catch Auburn’s offense playing out of control and disorganized, they will look to compound the issue by also playing fast.
Even so, Missouri has plenty of problems to worry about themselves. Although it’s often suspect, if Auburn’s defense is able to contain Missouri, they could have problems keeping up. In their last game, Auburn dropped 109 points in a route of South Carolina. Missouri’s offense lacks a dominate scorer and even worse, they are less accurate from behind the arc.
Although they don’t shoot a great percentage themselves, if Auburn is able to make some threes and put up points, Missouri could struggle to keep up. While Auburn will rely on Cooper, Missouri will look for their veteran guards to take them to the finish line. Redshirt senior guard Dru Smith just received SEC player of the Week honors and for Missouri to win this game, his play will need to remain elite.
Where to Watch
The game will be played at Auburn Area with tip-off set for 8 p.m. ET. Tune-in to ESPN2 for coverage.