FAYETTEVILLE — The now 1-8 in the SEC Vanderbilt Commodores breaking an, into their third year, 26-games SEC losing streak stunning previously SEC unbeaten league leader LSU on Wednesday night at Vandy’s Memorial Gym sounds an obvious warning to Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks visiting Missouri.
Musselman pays it little heed.
Because he sees more obvious warnings from the Missouri Tigers themselves even with Mizzou meagerly 10-12 overall, 2-7 in the SEC hosting Arkansas, 16-5, 4-5 SEC, in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Missouri.
Earlier this season, with both since injured 6-foot-10 center Jeremiah Tilmon and shooting guard Mark Smith healthy, the Tigers, in St. Louis, beat Big Ten power Illinois.
In a Jan. 11 SEC game in Columbia, Mizzou flogged Florida, 91-75.
“Missouri when they’ve had their pieces, beat Illinois,” Musselman said. “Illinois is a ranked (20th by AP) team right now.”
Florida was highly ranked for awhile even after mauled by Mizzou.
“I think Florida is one of the most talented teams in our league,” Musselman said. “They are good. Missouri put it to them.”
Mark Smith scored 14 against Florida. Tilmon was already injured and missed that Florida game.
Tilmon returned off the bench in Missouri’s most recent game, Tuesday’s SEC loss at Texas A&M.
And Musselman expects Mark Smith back Saturday pairing with Dru Smith, Mizzou’s leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points.
Meanwhile, already thin, Arkansas has indefinitely lost its second leading scorer, sophomore shooting guard Isaiah Joe rehabs from Tuesday’s arthroscopic knee surgery.
Arkansas starting point guard Jimmy Whitt, a Columbia, Missouri native, went scoreless playing 40 minutes despite a painfully ailing back, in Arkansas’ 79-76 Tuesday SEC overtime loss to nationally No. 10 Auburn at Walton Arena.
“Now they have an all-league type center who has great size that has missed the last eight games,” Musselman said. “And Smith, their best perimeter shooter, being out the last couple, but from what we’ve been studying, he’s going to play as well.”
That makes for a different Mizzou team, Musselman asserts.
“Just as we’re not the same team without Isaiah, they’re not the same team without Tillman,” he said. “So, I don’t look at their record at all. No. 1, they’re good at home (also beating Georgia in a SEC game in Columbia), and No. 2, they’ve beaten some great basketball teams and they’re as healthy as they’ve been in a long time.”
The unrelated Smiths, Dru hails from Evansville, Indiana, and Mark from Edwardsville, Illinois, rank 1-2 in Mizzou scoring but for Arkansas it’s a third Mizzou Smith striking closest to home.
Mitchell Smith, a junior forward from Van Buren, brings 6-10 size off the bench with a shooting touch, hitting 14 3-pointers and 22 of 26 free throws, and complements Tilmon, 6-10, 250 pounds, and Reed Nikko, Mizzou’s 6-10, 240 forward.
“Active, versatile, he (Mitchell Smith) is able to switch pick and rolls where their other two bigs, they’ll play different coverages. Smith allows them to kind of play small ball a little bit and match up with people, and he’s a threat from perimeter three as well.”
None of the Tigers score like Arkansas’ Mason Jones 34, 30 and 40 points in his last three games sandwiching 79-77 and 79-76 in overtime home SEC losses to South Carolina and nationally No. 10 Auburn with last Saturday’s SEC win at Alabama.
Still, especially with Joe out, Musselman needs Whitt back with his back ready to score closer to the 26 he tallied on Alabama than his zero versus Auburn.
“I definitely know I’ve got to step it up,” Whitt said, held out of Thursday’s practice to get more treatment for his back. “I can’t have performances like that, especially when we’re down numbers already with Isaiah Joe being out. It (his back) is definitely getting better. It’s not something I would use as an excuse for anything. That last game, it just wasn’t my night. I didn’t play well.”