Missouri’s school-record streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths came to an end Sunday when the Tigers weren’t picked for the annual 68-team championship tourney.
“The committee has what it looks at and what’s important, and obviously we didn’t do enough,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said.
Still, the season isn’t over for the Tigers, 22-11, who drew a No. 2 seed in the postseason National Invitation Tournament and will play host to No. 7 seed Davidson, 20-12, at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. The game will air on ESPN2.
Now, Haith’s toughest chore now might be rallying Missouri, which is 1-7 all-time in the NIT, to shake off the disappointment of missing out on the NCAAs and muster its best effort against a Wildcats squad that won the Southern Conference regular-season championship.
“Davidson, I think they’re going to be real excited about postseason play,” Haith said.
While it’s natural for the Tigers to feel disappointed — no team sets a preseason goal to play in the NIT — Haith hopes Missouri will embrace the chance to chase a title and “look at it as a chance to continue to grow and get better.”
Haith knows firsthand that the NIT can be a good experience.
“I was fortunate enough to part of a team at Wake Forest when we won the NIT (in 2000), and it was a great feeling to go to New York and compete,” Haith said.
Perhaps it’s not the championship, but the NIT still awards a championship and the semifinals and final are played on basketball’s most-revered stage — Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“I want our guys … not to listen to all that stuff around them, because they’re getting so much stuff thrown at them in a negative way,” Haith said. “Just focus on what you can control and embrace the opportunity to compete for a championship.”
Haith said the Tigers didn’t gather to watch the NCAA Selection Show together and pointed to a 9-9 record in conference, including a home loss to Georgia and road losses at Vanderbilt and Alabama, as the reason Missouri failed to make the field.
“We didn’t do enough in our conference,” Haith said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Of course, he also believed that the selection committee thumbed its nose at the SEC.
“Once I saw Tennessee was in the play-in game and Kentucky was an 8-9 (seed), I feel like our league didn’t get a lot of respect,” Haith said.
It also hurt to stung to see North Carolina State, which the Tigers beat 68-64 in Raleigh on Dec. 28, awarded the final at-large berth in the NCAA tourney while Missouri was left in the cold.
“I’ll have to go back at their resume and who they beat non-league compared to ours and see,” Haith said.
Perhaps the tipping point came Friday when the Wolfpack knocked off Syracuse in the ACC semifinals, while the Tigers got demolished in the second half against Florida.
Down the stretch, Missouri went 3-4 and got rocked in three losses — at Georgia (71-56), at Tennessee (72-45) and against the Gators (72-49) two days before the field was set.
Still, the Tigers went 4-4 against teams that made the field, including the three teams SEC teams that made the cut.
Missouri lost twice against Florida, who are the NCAA tourney’s No. 1 overall seed, split the season series with Tennessee and lost by five Feb. 1 against Kentucky.
During nonconference play, Missouri beat the South Region’s No. 4 seed, UCLA, the South’s No. 14 seed, Western Michigan, and N.C. State, which drew a No. 12 seed and faces Xavier in the First Four.