COLUMBIA - Win and they're in.
That's Missouri head coach Frank Haith's mindset heading into the final stretch of the 2013-14 season. With six Southeastern Conference games left on the docket, Haith understands winning is paramount if the Tigers are going to reach the NCAA Tournament.
"I don't pay any attention to any of that stuff," Haith said of the ubiquitous "Bracketology" projections floating around the Internet. "All that stuff will take care of itself if you do your job. We know Wednesday is a big game. They're all big, but you're playing a team that's right there with you that's beaten you once, and it's a big game."
That "big game" pits Missouri (18-7, 6-6 SEC) against Vanderbilt (14-10, 6-6 SEC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena (KMIZ-TV).
While the Commodores and their No. 89 ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index aren't in play for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers certainly are. Missouri saw its RPI jump from No. 44 to No. 38 after a pair of wins last week against Arkansas and Tennessee.
"We had two really good games," Haith said. "I think we're definitely moving in that direction. There's reason to feel good about where we're at. We haven't had the kind of production (we had Saturday) all year out of our post guys. So that's a positive, and hopefully, we can build on what those guys did the other day and continue to grow."
And while a win against Vanderbilt won't be considered a resume-builder, a loss could prove to be a resume-killer.
"We just have to keep winning," Missouri junior point guard Jordan Clarkson said during Monday's media session at Mizzou Arena. "That's what it's all about. We're going to take it one game at a time and keep doing what we're doing."
It's just as important at this point for Missouri to avoid bad losses as it is to collect quality wins. And the remaining schedule is certainly littered with opportunities for the former.
Out of the six games left on Missouri's slate, only one - a season-ending tilt March 8 at Tennessee (No. 54 RPI) - comes against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. The rest - vs. Vanderbilt, at Alabama (No. 118 RPI), at Georgia (No. 88 RPI), vs. Mississippi Stat (No. 190 RPI) and vs. Texas A&M (No. 135 RPI) - simply represent potential stumbling blocks.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently projects Missouri as a No. 11 seed playing Oklahoma in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi puts the Tigers fourth in his "Last Four Byes" category, meaning they're one slot above having to play in a First Four play-in game. CBS' Jerry Palm has Missouri as a No. 10 seed playing Oklahoma, while Yahoo's Brad Evans also thinks the Tigers fit in the No. 10-seed range.
Yet Missouri doesn't concern itself with that guesswork.
"I don't really pay attention to those," Missouri junior guard Jabari Brown said. "It is what it is. Selection Sunday is really when it matters."
That fateful day is March 16.
Brown went on record last Monday stating the Tigers needed to win their final eight regular-season games and at least two more in the SEC Tournament. Two of those victories are in the book. Are eight more to come?
"Moving onto this next stretch now we're trying to make sure we get all these wins to close out the season," Brown said.
Missouri's NCAA Tournament hopes look to be heading in the right direction.
Let's see if they remain that way.
Haith is probably right. Win and they're in.