Missouri guard Sean East II argues with a foul call during a college basketball game against Ole Miss at Mizzou Arena on Mar. 2, 2024, in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri Looks for First SEC Win Against Auburn

The Missouri Tigers welcome Auburn to Columbia on Tuesday night, looking for their first SEC victory of the season. Missouri is 0-16 in conference play with only two games remaining, while Auburn is pursuing an SEC regular-season title.

Unexpected Success

The Auburn Tigers are 22-7 entering the final week of the season and are still within reach of a conference title. This isn’t something most people expected. ESPN, FOX and USA Today all had Auburn outside of their respective preseason Top-25s. The preseason AP Poll didn’t include Auburn either, with the Tigers only garnering 27 votes.

Auburn got off to a quick start to the season, going 16-2 in its first 18 games. A large part of that start can be attributed to freshman guard Aden Holloway. During the 18-game stretch, Holloway tallied a double-digit point total eight times. Since then, the Tigers are 6-5, and Holloway has only gone for over 10 points once.

Even with its recent struggles, Auburn still sits only two games back from the SEC lead. KenPom favors the Tigers to win each of their last two regular-season games, largely because of their high-powered defense. Auburn is fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and allows only 68 points per game. On Saturday, Auburn held Mississippi State to a season-low 22 points at halftime.

SEC Struggles

The Missouri Tigers entered SEC play with an 8-5 record, holding respectable losses to Memphis, #2 Kansas and #13 Illinois. Since then, the Tigers have struggled to get into a groove, with their roster littered with injuries. Contributors Caleb Grill and John Tonje both played fewer than 10 games before suffering season-ending ailments. Head coach Dennis Gates emphasized the role injuries have played in his team’s season.

I’m curious if any other team has had five surgeries, five surgeries in a season. I’m curious about that.

Although the Tigers are winless in the SEC, they’re still playing close games consistently. Ten of the Tigers’ 16 losses have come by fewer than 10 points, losing by only five and nine points to #5 Tennessee and #24 Florida, respectively. Senior guard Sean East II explained that Missouri doesn’t close out games well, and if it hopes to win, that will need to change.

We just to understand that there’s eight to 10 minutes left and we got to dig down a little bit deeper and fight a little harder. Everything has to go up and the intensity has to go up.

East II has been one of the bright spots for the Tigers, being considered for SEC all-conference honors. He’s averaging 17.5 points per game on an efficient 46.6 three-point percentage. He has scored over 20 points in each of Missouri’s last five games.

A Battle of Depth

When the two Tigers face each other on Tuesday night, they will each have different goals in mind.

Missouri hopes to avoid becoming the first SEC team to go winless within the conference since Vanderbilt during the 2018-19 season. On the other hand, Auburn looks to overtake Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina in the SEC standings in order to secure the top seed in the conference tournament. However, Auburn just needs to finish as one of the top four teams to get a double-bye in the tournament.

What separates the two teams is their depth. Missouri gets strong scoring from its starting lineup, with four players accounting for 53.1 points per game. The rest of the Missouri roster accounts for only 19.8 points.

One of Auburn’s strengths is its bench. Auburn ranks fifth nationally in bench points per game with 34.21. Early-season star Holloway is one of the team’s key contributors off the bench, averaging 7.9 points per game.

Missouri and Auburn will both look to take advantage of their respective lineups and earn a critical victory in this late-season SEC matchup.

About Noah White

I'm a freshman at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and public relations. I enjoy playing soccer and volleyball with friends, watching movies with my girlfriend and, of course, writing. I also know more about Liberty League women's soccer than you do.

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