Missouri men's basketball braces for Tennessee's frontcourt

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 5:56 p.m. CST; updated 11:54 a.m. CST, Saturday, February 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Another day, another must-win game to maintain a realistic chance at an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.

Those will be the circumstances for Missouri men's basketball (17-7, 5-6 Southeastern Conference) Saturday afternoon inside Mizzou Arena against Tennessee (15-9, 6-5), another team living in the tourney bubble's area code.

Get to know the foe

Who: Tennessee Volunteers (15-9, 6-5)

Where: Mizzou Arena

When: 3 p.m.

Watch: ESPN2

Listen: Tiger Radio Network

The Tigers were listed among the “first four out” in ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s most recent projection on Thursday; meanwhile, Lunardi pegged the Volunteers as an 11-seed, one of the last four teams qualifying for the first full round.  

After snapping a three-game losing streak in thrilling fashion Thursday night against Arkansas, Missouri will enter Saturday’s showdown looking to build on that victory.

“It gives us some momentum, some confidence coming out with a win, and it’s a good thing,” junior guard Jabari Brown said after Thursday night’s game. “You know, coming off with a loss, you just have to regroup, so I feel like we have to improve on some things, but I don’t feel like we have to regroup.

“It keeps us going in the right direction. We’ve got seven more games, and we’re going to try to get all seven of them, but we’re going to take them one at a time. We’ve got a good Tennessee team coming in here.”

A good Tennessee team that’s led by senior guard Jordan McRae, who’s tied with MU’s Jordan Clarkson for fourth in the SEC with 19.2 points per game. While McRae is one of the conference’s most potent scorers, it was the Volunteers’ big men who Missouri coach Frank Haith said his team would have to contain Saturday afternoon.

Six-foot-eight, 260-pound junior forward Jarnell Stokes is Tennessee's second-leading scorer with 14.2 points per game but leads the conference with 10.3 rebounds per game. His partner in the paint, 6-8, 260-pound senior Jeronne Maymon, is third in the SEC with 8.2 rebounds per game.

The 3 p.m. tip-off will be a "blackout" game, with all fans encouraged to wear black. At halftime, Missouri will recognize its football team for its 12-2 season and Cotton Bowl victory.

Of greater importance is the type of postseason tournament the Missouri basketball team will reach — and this game could go a long way in helping to decide that.

With Missouri's trio of Brown, Clarkson and Earnest Ross averaging 53.7 points per game, Haith doesn’t need a lot of production from his post players. But even with expectations of contributions so low, the dearth of low-post production has hampered Missouri throughout conference play.

That wasn’t the case Thursday night, as senior forward Tony Criswell contributed six points and six rebounds off the bench with starter Johnathan Williams III in foul trouble yet again. Criswell had scored just five points in his previous six games.

“We need Tony to be that guy, make those plays, get that big rebound, make a tough shot,” Haith said.

Sophomore big man Ryan Rosburg scored eight points — the fifth time in the past six games he had scored at least eight points — continuing a stretch in which he has contributed considerably more than he did earlier in conference play. Williams snagged six second-half rebounds.

“We need all those guys,” Haith said. “We need every point, every rebound we can get out of those guys."

Especially against Tennessee’s powerful frontcourt. If Missouri is to bolster its résumé and defeat the Volunteers on Saturday, it will likely need another complete effort.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig

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