If they keep winning...

COLUMBIA --- Let's look on the bright side, shall we?

The Missouri Tigers are in the NCAA Tournament.

No, really, they are.

Turn that frown upside down!

It just started early --- as in last Saturday. It continued Wednesday night, it will continue this Saturday.

The Tigers are in one-and-done mode, as one in more loss, their tournament hopes are done.

But if they keep winning ...

Playing another really bad SEC team Wednesday night, the Tigers didn't have the lead for the first 39 minutes, 53 seconds. If you weren't sure, the game lasts 40 minutes.

But Earnest Ross hit two free throws with 7 seconds left, giving the Tigers an ugly 57-56 win over the ugly Texas A&M Aggies at Mizzou Arena.

"It obviously wasn't the prettiest of games, and we knew that going in," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "I knew it could potentially be like going to the dentist."

Pass the Novocane, because this was hard to watch.

The Tigers can still earn a top-four seed --- and a double-bye --- at next week's SEC Tournament in Atlanta. They need to win at Tennessee on Saturday, and have losses from Arkansas and LSU.

LSU plays at Vanderbilt on Thursday night and hosts Georgia on Saturday. Arkansas, which routed Ole Miss 110-80 on Wednesday night, plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Missouri has a strength of schedule of 92 and an RPI of 60. Not very good. Here's something worse --- the Tigers have lost to Georgia, twice, which has an RPI of 80. They also have bad RPI losses to Ole Miss (95), Vanderbilt (101) and Alabama (114).

Missouri did beat Texas A&M (132), however --- but that will only drop the Tigers' RPI even more. Just as MU's RPI dropped after beating even-worse Mississippi State.

Texas A&M (17-13, 8-9 SEC) has no Johnny Basketball, after all.

It was Senior Night and the last home games for Earnest Ross and Tony Criswell. It could also have been the last home game for juniors Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson, as many think they're NBA-ready.

I'm not one of them, are you?

But if they do jump, and with the loss of Ross, who will actually score points for this team next year? That trio's combined to score 53 of the team's average 74 points this season; in SEC play, the averages are 54 and 73.

Here's an educated guess --- the Tigers won't win many games if they score 19 points a game next season.

The announced attendance was 10,655. It's the first time in the 11-year history of Mizzou Arena there wasn't a sellout the entire season.

This season, average attendance was just over 9,200 --- just 62 percent capacity in the 15,061-seat building and down 22 percent from last season.

In other words, fans have had plenty of room to stretch out. But if you've watched this team, you can understand the empty seats.

This game was tied once at 2-2. Missouri (21-9, 9-8) trailed 30-20 at the half after making seven field goals and committing 10 turnovers before the break.

Brown scored 20 points and Clarkson had 14 to keep the Tigers in the conversation, before an Earnest Ross driving score got the Tigers within 56-55 with 16 seconds left.

That was followed by an A&M turnover, which was followed immediately by an MU turnover.

The Tigers fouled Jamal Jones, who hadn't made a free throw the entire SEC season. Jones missed the front end of the bonus with 8 seconds left, Ross got the rebound and was fouled with 7 seconds left. He made both free throws.

After more video reviews than an NFL game in the closing seconds, it was finally over.


"It was a toughness game, I thought we needed that kind of mentality," Haith said. "We had to find a way to just grind it out."

Saturday is another must-win. If the Tigers beat Tennessee and win at least one game in the SEC Tournament, they will be in the NCAA Tournament.

If they lose Saturday, well ...

Frown away.