Missouri has bubble trouble

Tigers know they have to start winning basketball games

Missouri guard Jabari Brown, shown here in a game last month against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., knows the Tigers have to start winning soon to improve their postseason hopes.

Missouri guard Jabari Brown, shown here in a game last month against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., knows the Tigers have to start winning soon to improve their postseason hopes. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers know they are skating on thin ice.

With just eight games remaining on the 2013-14 schedule, Missouri (16-7, 4-6 Southeastern Conference) is squarely on the proverbial bubble when it comes to the NCAA Tournament conversation.

After missing out on a few opportunities for resume-building wins the last week or two — a home loss to then-No. 11 Kentucky on Feb. 1 before road defeats to No. 3 Florida last Tuesday and Mississippi on Saturday — Missouri’s margin for error is slimmer than slim.

“Win out probably,” Missouri junior guard Jabari Brown said during Monday’s weekly media session when asked what it would take for the Tigers to reach the Big Dance. But he didn’t stop there. “And win a couple games in the SEC Tournament.”

So he’s talking about rattling off at least 10 straight victories. That’s tough sledding.

“We’re just looking to get our next win and trying to get as many wins as possible because we know it’s important now,” freshman point guard Wes Clark said.

The bad news? There aren’t many opportunities for quality wins remaining.

The Tigers host Arkansas, ranked 79th in the Ratings Percentage Index, on Thursday night before Tennessee and its No. 48 RPI visits Mizzou Arena on Saturday. The Volunteers represent the Tigers’ best competition the rest of the regular season. Vanderbilt’s RPI sits at No. 86 while Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M all feature RPI numbers exceeding 100.

“They do look at your last 10 games in terms of how you’re playing,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said of the NCAA selection committee. “We do have to win games, there’s no doubt about it.”

The good news? Missouri’s RPI sits at No. 50, climbing two whole spots despite a pair of losses last week.

“I think our RPI has jumped over the last week or so,” Haith said. “I think we may have the (fourth) highest in the league (behind Florida (fifth), Kentucky (12th) and Tennessee), so we’re still in play. We just have to win some games.”

More good news? The remaining schedule is backloaded with home games. After playing six of its first 10 SEC games on the road, Missouri gets five of its final eight in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena.

“I don’t know if anybody in the league has played more road games than we’ve played so far,” Haith said. “We’ve got to protect our home court and we have to go try to win some games on the road. We’ve got seven losses, we’re (3-4) on the road, we easily could be 6-1. With only one loss on the road against Florida it wasn’t a possession game at the end. The other six losses I think it was a possession here or there and we were right there to win the game.”

Added Brown: “I think it will help a lot (playing a stretch of home games). We’re usually pretty good in this building so hopefully we can continue that.”

Missouri is 10-2 at home this season.

It also doesn’t hurt that non-conference wins against UCLA and West Virginia continue to look better and better. The Bruins are 18-5 with a No. 19 RPI. West Virginia has recovered from an abysmal non-league slate to sit at 15-10 overall and 7-5 in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers just blasted No. 11 Iowa State by 25 points Monday night and are slowly entering the NCAA Tournament picture despite a No. 74 RPI.

A solid number of NCAA Tournament bracket projects still consider Missouri as in the field. ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi places the Tigers as the very last team in the field, slated to play in the First Four. CBS’ Jerry Palm also puts Missouri in the First Four as the third-to-last team in field. Sports Illustrated and Yahoo have the Tigers just out of the field.

“Everybody is still pretty upbeat,” Brown said. “We’re not down and out or anything like that. We know we have a lot of basketball left to play.”

So what will it be? NCAA or NIT?

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