Kim English strolled out, greeting reporters with a cool demeanor and a shiny new hat that read “Big 12 champions.”
English and his Missouri teammates had just found out Norfolk State was their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Several Tigers didn’t know much about the Spartans.
“I know they (wear) green and white, and before we played Old Dominion, we passed their university,” junior guard Michael Dixon said with a slight chuckle.
Then English dropped this bit of information.
“They’ve got a big kid that a lot of people don’t know about,” English said. “He’s about 6-9, 6-10 and he averages 16 and 11.”
That big kid is Kyle O’Quinn, and English is right on all three counts. Yes, most people don’t know about him, yes, he is 6-10, and yes, he can play.
O’Quinn, a senior, also weighs 240 pounds and averages 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game. He was chosen both the player of the year and defensive player of the year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and he is the main reason Norfolk State is 25-9 and in the tournament for the first time.
“They’re a pretty good ballclub,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said Sunday. “I know people hear ‘Norfolk State,’ but Marquette only beat them by two on a neutral court and Marquette is pretty doggone good.”
The Spartans are led by O’Quinn, but also have size and experience. Norfolk State has five starters 6 feet 5 or taller, including two more players who boast double-digit scoring averages in sophomore guard Pendarvis Williams (11.8) and senior guard Chris McEachin (12.8).
Still, the odds say the second-seeded Tigers should be just fine at 3:40 p.m. Friday, when they face the Spartans at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. No. 2 seeds rarely lose in their opening game, and MEAC teams are 3-30 in the NCAA Tournament.
While Norfolk State did almost beat Marquette — the No. 3 seed behind MU in the West Region — losing 59-57 on a neutral court, the Spartans opened their season with a 99-68 loss on the Golden Eagles’ home court in Milwaukee.
The Spartans, who moved up to Division I in 1997, could be in for a rude awakening against an experienced 30-4 Missouri team that has won five in a row after its rousing performance in the Big 12 tournament last week at the Sprint Center.
But while the Tigers might not have known much about the Spartans, they still respect a team that finished second in its conference with a 13-3 regular-season record and also won its conference tournament.
So when asked about potential matchups down the road — either seventh-seeded Florida or 10th-seeded Virginia in the third round on Sunday — English reminded everyone that the Spartans are not to be overlooked.
“We’ll worry about Florida or Virginia after we take care of business against Norfolk State, hopefully,” English said. “They’re a good team, they only had three league losses this year. And again, they had a big kid that averages 16 and 11.
“Whatever league you do that in, you’re pretty good.”