Friday’s NCAA Tournament preview | (15) Norfolk State vs. (2) Missouri
• WHEN/WHERE: About 3:40 p.m. Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
• TV/RADIO: TNT (Ch. 203 and 1203 on Time Warner, Ch. 51 and 204 on Comcast in Missouri, Ch. 69 and 204 on Comcast in Kansas, Ch. 48 and 600 on Surewest, Ch. 108 on AT&T U-Verse, Ch. 245 on DirecTV and Ch. 138 on Dish Network); KMBZ (980 AM and 98.1 FM)
• ABOUT NORFOLK STATE (25-9): The Spartans finished 13-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, good for second place. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history by winning the league tournament. … Norfolk State is a relative newcomer to this level of basketball, as it made the leap to Division I in 1997. … Senior center Kyle O’Quinn said several teams in the MEAC play similar styles as Missouri, which spreads the floor with four shooters and a single post player. “This is not the type of game that we haven’t seen a game plan (for),” he said. “Yes, we are going against better players from a different conference, but the style of play is what we see a lot (of) in the conference.”
• ABOUT MISSOURI (30-4): The Tigers won the Big 12 tournament for the second time in school history Saturday with a convincing 90-75 win over Baylor. … Missouri took second in the conference during the regular season with a 14-4 record. The Tigers are riding a five-game winning streak and boast five players who average in double figures. … Kim English and Marcus Denmon are both battling injuries after the Tigers won three times in three days in Kansas City but both expect to play.
This one is close. Kyle O’Quinn is a force, a 6-foot-10, 240-pounder who can take over games. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, and was his conference’s player of the year and defensive player of the year. Nobody on Missouri does all the things O’Quinn does for his team, but collectively, the Tigers are better. Ricardo Ratliffe and Kim English average almost 29 points and 12 rebounds combined, and backup center Steve Moore gives Missouri size and energy off the bench.
Edge >> Missouri
This one is not as close. Norfolk State doesn’t list a single starter under 6-5, which figures to give MU an advantage at point guard, where 5-10 sophomore Phil Pressey has established himself one of the best in the nation this season. His speed, awareness and passing ability make him difficult to handle on offense, while his quick hands and anticipation allow him to rack up steals. He will be a tough matchup for Pendarvis Williams, who stands 6-5. Missouri’s Marcus Denmon — a second-team All-American — and defensive stalwart Matt Pressey are decidedly better than the rest of Norfolk State’s guards.
Edge >> Missouri
Missouri only goes two deep with Moore and junior guard Michael Dixon. But Dixon, who averages 13.3 points per contest, is a fearless scorer who can and has changed the course of several games. Moore has done the same, thanks to his willingness to fight for loose balls and do the dirty work. Norfolk State doesn’t have a player of Dixon’s caliber coming off the bench, but Spartans coach Anthony Evans does have a team that goes 10 players deep.
Edge >> Push
First-year Missouri coach Frank Haith has earned praise for what he’s done with a group that was fractured and in disrepair at the end of last season. He got his players to buy in and changed the team’s style, which — when combined with Missouri’s collective postseason experience — is a dangerous combination. All seven of Missouri’s regulars logged NCAA Tournament minutes last season, while Norfolk State is in the tournament for the first time in school history. Evans deserves credit for building a program, but his team’s lack of tournament experience could be a problem today.
Edge >> Missouri
Norfolk State’s collective height could cause a problem early, as could the talent of O’Quinn. But Missouri simply has way too much firepower to let the Spartans hang in there long. The Tigers are playing their best basketball, and as long as they continue their trademark unselfish play, they should roll to victory.