As expected, the Missouri Tigers got off to a good start as a new member of the SEC with an 84-68 win over our beloved Crimson Tide on Tuesday night.
Only the most optimistic Tide fan could have expected victory last night based on the play of both teams entering the contest. Missouri is a legitimate top 10-15 team, while Alabama is still trying to find itself after a disastrous December that could well have ended this team's postseason hopes. With that written, I was interested to see if the team, fresh off an impressive performance against Oakland, would at least compete with the Tigers on their home floor. Alabama did just that, making Missouri work for their first conference win.
Alabama fell behind by ten points early, but was able to rally and even took a temporary lead in the first half behind a fantastic performance by Trevor Releford who scored 26 points. The defense had no answers for Mizzou's offensive firepower last night as the Tigers posted 84 points on 56% shooting (60% from 3-pt). Our guys couldn't match up inside with Mizzou's Laurence Bowers or Alex Oriakhi. The two players combined for 32 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. It might have been worse if Bowers had not left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. Auburn transfer Earnest Ross also had a nice game, scoring 19 points, including some big shots when it appeared Alabama might be gaining some measure of control of the game.
The Mizzou guards were also a terror. In my opinion, the player of the game was Jabari Brown. He scored 22 points, including five three pointers. He knocked down three straight three point shots at one point in the game that I felt turned the game in Mizzou's favor for good. Phil Pressey didn't register a big night offensively as far as points, but he did dish out 13 assists and was seemingly unstoppable when he decided to take someone off the dribble. Alabama forced him into five turnovers in the first half, but zero in the second half. Simply put, our guys didn't have the firepower to hang with Missouri for 40 minutes. Kudos to the team though for hanging in there for 30-35 minutes on the road against a top 10 team.
Other than Releford, the best performance of the night was probably Devonta Pollard who scored 10 points, and was very active on the floor most of the night. Pollard is slowly starting to put things together and I think the future is very bright for him.
In order for Alabama to have a chance, the interior guys have got to produce. Unfortunately, both Nick Jacobs and, especially, Moussa Gueye had poor performances in the game. Jacobs managed just 3 points and 3 rebounds, while Moussa was a disaster, fouling out in 15 minutes of play. If I remember correctly, three of his fouls were for moving screens, two of which came when Alabama had some momentum in the game. Moussa seemed overwhelmed by the size, strength and athleticism of the Mizzou frontline. Unfortunately, that's probably going to be the issue moving forward when Bama plays teams with athletic post players (e.g. Kentucky, Florida, Ole Miss).
Nevertheless, Alabama did show some spunk in this game, refusing to allow Mizzouo to blow them off the court, which could have happened early when Mizzou jumped out to a ten point lead. This game will not ultimately decide if Alabama is trending back up, stagnant, or will continue the trend of December. Instead, it will be the next three games that I think will be an indication of what we can expect the rest of the way. Winnable home games against Tennessee and Texas A&M along with a winnable road game at Mississippi State present Bama with a chance to be 3-1 in conference play heading into the Kentucky game. Do that and I will feel better about this team's chances to salvage something from this season. If not, then we are probably truly looking at a .500 or worse type season the rest of the way.