Campus Corner

Reeling Missouri hopes its NCAA Tournament bubble won’t burst

Updated: 2014-02-27T03:37:47Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

There is no doubt that the chase for a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, which would be a record for Missouri, is beginning to wear on coach Frank Haith’s team.

When asked whether he pays attention to bracketology or the bubble watch, Haith has repeatedly said throughout the season that he doesn’t.

But it’s a little different for the players.

Sometimes, it’s all the Tigers’ players ponder these days.

“You always think about it being a player,” sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg said. “Being at Missouri, you expect to go to the NCAA Tournament every year. You definitely think about it, but we just try to focus on winning and we don’t really want to worry about other people are saying and what other people are ranking you.”

Of course, it’s to the point in the season where Missouri needs to worry about its perception, because it’s that perception that will determine whether the committee selects the Tigers on March 16.

Missouri has played flat and disinterested, rather than intense and impassioned, in losses at Alabama and Georgia, which took the sting right out of a three-game win streak that had the squad’s needle pointing up.

If the Tigers lose Saturday against Mississippi State, the NIT is the best Haith’s boys can do.

Of course, that won’t happen, and Missouri isn’t likely to lose against Texas A&M next Wednesday, either, though stranger things have happened.

The Tigers’ best chance for another statement win — at least before the SEC Tournament — comes March 8 at Tennessee.

According to BracketMatrix.com, 86 of 95 brackets it compiles had Missouri in the field last week, but that was before the loss at Georgia. By Wednesday, that trend was getting throw in reverse.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi tweeted that he had dropped the Tigers to one of the first four out.

USA Today’s Shelby Mast made a similar decision, moving Nebraska — and Olathe Northwest grad Shavon Shields^, the son of former Chiefs’ great Will Shields — into the field ahead of Missouri.

^ If you haven’t paid attention, the Cornhuskers are fifth in the Big Ten and Shields, a sophomore, leads the team in minutes (825), rebounds (143) and steals (26). He also ranks second in points per game (12.0) and third in assists (40).

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports wasn’t quite as a harsh on the Tigers, keeping them in the field as one of the First Four participants.

Of course, that almost seems like punishment.

The truth is Missouri still has a decent case in a down year for at-large teams. Averaging the NCAA RPI, ESPN RPI, BPI and Sagarin Ranking, the Tigers’ composite ranking is 48.5.

Missouri is 19-9 overall and 7-8 in the SEC. That breaks down to 13-2 at home, 3-6 on the road and 3-1 in neutral site games.

Using the aforementioned composite, the Tigers 5-3 against teams ranked in the top 68, which I picked because 68 teams make the tourney field and it seems every bit as arbitrary as 50 as a cutoff point.

Against the top 100, Missouri is 7-8 and its worst loss is against an Alabama team with a 106 composite ranking.

Based on the numbers, the Tigers are tournament worthy or very close to it, but they didn’t pass the eye test the last two games. That must change during these final two weeks before Selection Sunday.

Breaking down Missouri’s schedule

OpponentResult/DateOpponent’s recordComposite ranking*
SE LouisianaW, 89-539-14305.3
Southern IllinoisW, 72-5911-17186.3
vs. HawaiiW, 92-8017-8135.0
Gardner WebbW, 72-6313-13239.8
IUPUIW, 78-644-23315.5
vs. NorthwesternW, 78-6712-16121.0
vs. NevadaW, 83-7013-15143.8
West VirginiaW, 80-7115-1269.8
UCLAW, 80-7121-615.5
Western MichiganW, 66-6017-8110.5
vs. IllinoisL, 65-6415-1277.5
at N.C. StateW, 68-6417-1065.5
Long Beach StateW, 69-5910-14140.0
GeorgiaL, 70-64 (OT)16-1184.0
at AuburnW, 70-6812-13135.3
at VanderbiltL, 78-7515-1286.5
AlabamaW, 68-4711-16106.0
at LSUL, 77-7116-1066.3
South CarolinaW, 82-7410-17153.8
at Arkansas W, 75-7118-954.5
KentuckyL, 82-7421-611.0
at FloridaL, 68-5826-23.3
at MississippiL, 91-8816-1174.0
ArkansasW, 86-8518-954.5
TennesseeW, 75-7015-1149.8
VanderbiltW, 67-6415-1286.5
at AlabamaL, 80-7311-16106.0
at GeorgiaL, 71-5616-1184.0
Mississippi StateMarch 113-14197.3
Texas A&MMarch 516-11114.3
at TennesseeMarch 815-1149.8

* Composite ranking is the average of the NCAA RPI (Feb. 24), ESPN RPI, BPI and Sagarin Ranking.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/todpalmer.

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