Moments before CBS’ NCAA Tournament selection show began Sunday afternoon, Missouri coach Frank Haith stood on the Mizzou Arena floor and addressed a crowd of 3,000 fans.
With their No. 5 ranking, 30-4 record and a Big 12 tournament title, the question was whether the Tigers would be a No. 1 seed. And if not, would they at least be placed in the Midwest Region, so they could potentially play two games in nearby St. Louis?
Haith knew this, which is why he issued a warning of sorts. One seed, two seed, three seed — it wouldn’t matter — his team would be playing for a championship, and that’s something to be excited about.
Excitement was tough to find minutes later when the brackets were revealed on the big screen. The Tigers were given the No. 2 seed in the West Region despite that they likely will be ranked in the top four when new polls are released today. They also won’t get to play in their home state. The West semifinals and finals are in Phoenix.
Haith reiterated the reason he issued the warning to the crowd in the first place.
“When things are out there that you can’t control, and you’re trying to wish for something, you’re going to get disappointed,” Haith said. “We couldn’t control what the committee was going to do. All we can control is our reaction and how we can compete.”
The initial reaction, at least for some Tigers, was surprise. Many of them had lobbied the day — in the aftermath of their Big 12 tournament championship victory Saturday night — to be a No. 1 seed. And at the very least, be a No. 2 seed in the region that would allow them to stay close to home.
“Based off of our record and who we beat, it’s almost obvious where we should be,” senior guard Matt Pressey said. “It’s crazy when you’re expecting a one, and end up getting a two. And not only that, you end up getting placed somewhere you didn’t think you get placed.”
Michigan State, North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse got the top seeds, while Kansas — the Big 12 regular-season champion who went 1-1 vs. Missouri — got the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.
Missouri will face No. 15 Norfolk State, 25-9, in the second round Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Tipoff is about 3:40 p.m.
Provided the Tigers win — and No. 1 and 2 seeds almost always win their first game — they will play either No. 7 seed Florida or No. 10 Virginia on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
After the bracket was announced, selection committee chair Jeff Hathaway said Missouri was the No. 8 overall seed, meaning the Tigers were closer to a No. 3 than a No. 1 seed. They also avoided the bracket with top overall seed Kentucky.
Hathaway also said the committee emphasized the importance of nonconference scheduling. Missouri’s nonconference schedule was ranked 294th in the country according to collegerpi.com, though Haith defended it.
“I thought it was really good,” Haith said. “We played a Cal team that’s in the tournament. A Notre Dame team that’s in the tournament. Illinois lost 12 out of their last 14, but they beat Ohio State I feel good about we did.”
Haith remained calm while discussing his team’s draw, but also took the opportunity to spout some stats of his own.
“We were 11-3 against the top 50, I don’t know if anybody had that many wins,” Haith said. “We were 9-1 vs. the top 25. That’s pretty doggone good.”
And when told of Hathaway’s comment that Missouri was the No. 8 overall seed?
“We could possibly be No. 1 in the country next week in the AP poll,” said Haith, who also said he thought the committee rarely uses the same criteria to seed the tournament from year to year.
Still, if their overall attitudes Sunday were any indication, the Tigers are going to be ready Friday to show everybody — including the committee — just how good they are.
“Coach Haith tells us all the time that guys are going to count you down, and they counted us down this year,” Pressey said. “But you use those things as motivation to prove people wrong. You’re going to have haters everywhere, but you always want to (keep) that motivation.”