ATLANTA — Stick with your guns. That has been Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith's strategy when it comes to picking his team's starting lineup. For each of the team's first 31 games this season, Haith has used the same starting lineup.
Thanks to his late-season improvement, junior forward Keanau Post has won some of the coach's confidence and could be featured prominently when the Tigers tip off their Southeastern Conference tournament game at noon on Thursday against Texas A&M in the Georgia Dome.
8. Missouri (21-10, 9-9 SEC) vs. 9. Texas A&M (17-14, 8-10 SEC)
Noon Thursday at the Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
TV: SEC TV
Radio: Tiger Radio Network
Missouri won the teams' lone regular season game, a 57-56 victory at Mizzou Arena on March 5.
"There is no question that he really has become more assertive here in the latter part of the season," Haith said. "If he’s able to give us some production, consistently scoring the ball and giving us net presence, … I think he gives us more net presence than any of our other post guys on the defensive end because of his size and the way he moves his feet."
After scoring just 18 points in Missouri’s first 28 games, Post has become a bit of a revelation for Haith in the Tigers’ past three games, starting with Post's 14-point, seven-rebound performance against Mississippi State on March 1. The 6-foot-11, 255-pound Canadian didn’t score in the nine minutes he played in the team’s next game against Texas A&M, but he was one of the lone bright spots of Saturday's debacle in Knoxville. Against the Volunteers, Post scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in 19 minutes.
"If he’s able to continue to grow, I think he’s going to play expanded minutes tomorrow, and we’re hopeful that he will. I think he can really help our team," Haith said.
Starting center Ryan Rosburg played only 19 minutes against Tennessee. The sophomore, who has struggled to consistently make an impact on the team, has played just 53 total minutes in Missouri’s past three games, a significant dip compared to the rest of the season.
Whichever big man gets the starting nod on Thursday will be going against a Texas A&M lineup that could be without its leading scorer, Jamal Jones, who did not join the Aggies on their trip to Atlanta due to an illness, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
The Aggies hope the junior guard, who averages 13.4 points per game, can join his teammates prior to Thursday’s game. He was released from the hospital Wednesday.
"He’s feeling much better," Kennedy said. "We’ll know more probably tomorrow. But this time of the year, as a coach, we’re going to play him. If he can walk and chew gum, we’re going to play him, because we need him."
What Missouri needs is to win four consecutive games in Atlanta. Any result other than Haith cutting down the Georgia Dome’s nets on Sunday will likely result in the Tigers failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.
The Tigers are well aware of the bigger picture but are doing their best to focus on the task at hand, beating the Aggies for the second time in a little more than a week.
"If you lose the first one, then you don’t get a chance to go on any run, so we've got to beat a good team tomorrow," Missouri star guard Jabari Brown said. "We’re focused on them."