The LSU Tigers and Missouri Tigers will battle for postseason credentials when they square off Saturday in Columbia, Mo.
LSU (15-8, 10-6 SEC) is trying to secure a top-four seed and a double-bye in the league tournament next week.
Missouri (15-7, 8-7) will land somewhere between a No. 5 and No. 8 seed in the SEC event, depending on the outcome of games Saturday.
Both LSU and Missouri are also looking to improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Both are trying to avoid the Nos. 8-9 zone in that bracket and the potential of facing a No. 1 seed if they win their first game.
“We need another Quad 1 win,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “We need to try to improve our SEC tournament standing, improve our standing for the NCAA Tournament, all that stuff’s important.”
Missouri had lost four of five games before snapping their late-season slump with a 72-70 victory at Florida.
“We were already in the NCAA Tournament,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “That wasn’t the topic for our guys. It was, ‘Let’s get better.'”
Getting center Jeremiah Tilmon back in the starting lineup steadied Missouri. He missed two games (Feb. 13 vs. Arkansas and Feb. 16 vs. Georgia) while mourning the death of his grandmother and the team lost both in his absence.
In the three games since he returned, Tilmon scored 39 points, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked five shots. He is averaging 12.9 points and 7.6 rebounds this season.
“(Missouri) presents some problems with just how big, physical that they are,” Wade said. “That’ll be a challenge for us. Tilmon inside will be a huge challenge for us. Rebounding the ball will be a big issue.”
Missouri has also improved its perimeter shooting. After hitting just 6-of-33 shots from 3-point range during a seven-game span from Jan. 23 to Feb. 13, Mark Smith has connected on 10-of-21 shots since then.
“The last four games, Mark has been great,” Martin said. “It’s the film study, the execution, the mental preparation, the practice. I said that when he was struggling, all he had to do was focus on the things that we talk about and he’ll be OK. Because he already works hard, and he’s got a shot. Everything has fallen in place, so I’m happy for him.”
Missouri will have its hands full with LSU guard Cameron Thomas, who is averaging 22.8 points while scoring every which way possible. Thomas scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as LSU handled Vanderbilt 83-68 in its previous game.
Forward Trendon Watford (16 points, 7.4 rebounds), guard Ja’Vonte Smart (16 points, 4.1 assists) and forward Darius Days (11.7 points, 7.5 points) can also create matchup problems when LSU plays in the open court.
“(We) need to get the game going, get the pace going,” Wade said. “Hopefully we can stay out of situations where they’re just leaning on us in the half court.”
–Field Level Media