Missouri’s men’s basketball team has been on a violent rollercoaster ride during the month of January. The Tigers have alternated wins and losses in six games since the calendar turned to 2014.
Next up, Missouri, 14-4, faces South Carolina, 7-11, which is winless in the SEC (0-5), at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena for the annual Whiteout game to benefit Coaches vs. Cancer.
Here are three keys to victory for the Tigers, 2-3 in the SEC, who will once again try to draw level in conference play:
1. Make the easy baskets
Missouri shot an impressive 48.8 percent from the field during nonconference play. That would rank 17th in the NCAA right now.
During conference play, the Tigers’ shooting percentage has dipped to 38.6 percent. That would rank 337th among 345 NCAA Division I teams right now.
There isn’t a remarkable difference in terms of three-point shooting. Missouri shot slightly better — 36.2 percent compared to 34.1 — in nonconference action.
Of course, layups have become an issue, particularly for the Tigers’ frontcourt, which is shooting 31.6 percent since SEC play started.
And it hasn’t been one guy. At various times, Johnathan Williams III, Ryan Rosburg, Tony Criswell, Torren Jones and Keanau Post have all struggled to make bunnies.
“If you watch us in practice, we make layups at practice,” Haith said. “Keanau Post makes layups in practice. And Torren Jones makes layups at practice. They’ve got to get out there more and keep working at you. J3 (Williams), same thing. It’s not one guys, it’s all those guys.”
2. Control the paint
The Gamecocks and Tigers are enduring similar struggles in the paint. Both teams feature young players, who haven’t developed much scoring prowess at the college level yet.
Missouri’s starting forwards, freshman Johnathan Williams III and sophomore Ryan Rosburg, averaged 11.2 points and 11.7 rebounds combined.
“We’ve got to have paint points, we’ve got to have paint production and continue to throw the ball to those guys,” Haith said. “That doesn’t mean they shoot it every time, but if you don’t utilize them then people just gang up on your perimeter guys.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s starting forwards, freshman Demetrius Henry and sophomore Michael Carrera, average 12 points and 8.6 boards.
3. Match the Gamecocks’ toughness
South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s team have a certain reputation.
“When you’re playing a Frank Martin-coached team, you know you’re going to be playing a team that’s very physical and tough-minded,” Tigers coach Frank Haith said.
Missouri must match the intensity and fight Martin’s squad brings into Mizzou Arena. That means muscling up on the boards, battling for loose balls and no shying away from contact at both ends of the floor.