Missouri is officially in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons, which means Cuonzo Martin will soon take part in his third Big Dance as a head coach.
His past experience in the tournament has taught him that scouting can only help so much when you face unfamiliar teams from other conferences.
“These types of settings are great,” Martin said. “You don’t really know each other even though you watch film. ... That’s why it’s such a great game and a great time of the year.”
To advance out of the first weekend and into the Sweet 16, Missouri will have to beat No. 9 seed Florida State (tipoff around 8:50 Friday night on TBS) and (most likely) No. 1 seed Xavier. Below is a quick breakdown of those two teams.
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Two No. 16 seeds, North Carolina Central and Texas Southern, will play at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday for the chance to face Xavier in the first round. No team seeded 16th has beaten a No. 1 seed.
No. 9 seed Florida State
Strength: Getting to the free-throw line (and not letting opponents do the same). The Seminoles led the Atlantic Coast Conference in free-throw rate — free-throw attempts divided by field-goal attempts — and held their opponents to the lowest free throw rate in the 15-team conference. The Seminoles went to the foul line an average of 22.3 times per game. For perspective: Missouri goes to the free-throw line an average of 20.8 times per game. Why could this be especially important against Missouri? If the Seminoles get to the free-throw line, then they are drawing fouls against a Tigers team that is down to seven scholarship players.
Strength: Length. Mizzou often has held a size advantage over its opponents this season, but it won’t when it faces Florida State. The Seminoles' two centers — Ike Obiagu and Christ Koumadje — stand 7 feet and 7-4, respectively. Missouri freshman Jontay Porter has averaged 21 points in the Tigers’ past three games. Can he pull the Seminoles’ big men away from the rim and take them out of the game, or will their length bother the 6-11 Porter?
Weakness: No go-to scorer. Three upperclassmen — Terance Mann, Phil Cofer and Braian Angola — all average about 13 points per game for the Seminoles. But Florida State, which utilizes a 10-man rotation, has no obvious player to turn to if Missouri’s defense is playing well.
Player to watch: Terance Mann. The 6-6 junior averages 13.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. So he can affect the game in different ways, even if he only shoots 24.5 percent from the three-point line. He seems the player Missouri would have assigned to the Tigers’ best defender, Jordan Barnett — if Barnett was available. With Barnett suspended for the first game of the tournament, who stops Mann?
No. 1 seed Xavier
Strength: Tournament experience. This will be the Musketeers' fifth straight NCAA Tournament, and they start three seniors: Kerem Kanter, Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura. Coach Chris Mack will have his team ready for the postseason environment. Only one Tiger — Barnett — has played in the NCAA Tournament before, and that was when he was a freshman at Texas who sparingly played.
Strength: Dominant rebounding. According to KenPom, the Musketeers finished 15th in the country in opponents’ offensive rebounding rate. Put simply: They don’t allow many second chances, so Missouri, which struggled to score in Michael Porter Jr.’s first game back, will need to be efficient on offense.
Weakness: Defense doesn't cause much pressure. Xavier’s opponent turnover rate, 15.7 percent, ranks 318th in the country. For comparison, 20.7 percent of Missouri’s possessions this season have ended in turnovers, according to KenPom. So the good news for the Tigers is that, if they make it to the second round, they should not have too much trouble holding onto the ball.
Player to watch: Trevon Bluiett. The junior guard leads the Musketeers with 19.5 points per game. He also grabs 5.7 rebounds per game and has averaged 2.5 assists this season. He also leads Xavier from beyond the three-point line, where he is shooting 42.3 percent. If the Tigers make it to the second round, they will need to stop Bluiett to be successful. He has scored 13 points or less in four of Xavier’s five losses this season.