COLUMBIA | Missouri’s presence in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight March may say more about the Tigers than last season’s run to the Elite Eight and a school-record 31 victories.
“It makes a statement,” coach Mike Anderson said on Sunday after the Tigers, 22-10, were placed in the NCAA East Regional as a No. 10 seed. They will play seventh-seeded Clemson on Friday in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It’s a program. I’m sure a lot of people that saw our team last year, saw what we were losing last year, didn’t expect to see us here. They did not. I know that. I heard it from a lot of guys.”
Gone were DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence, each 1,000-point career scorers. Missouri’s roster heading into this season contained 11 freshmen or sophomores and no player who had averaged double figures in scoring the previous year.
And that loss of experience and growing pains in trying to rebuild it showed no more obviously than in Missouri losing three of its last four games leading up to Selection Sunday.
The low point was either Wednesday’s 75-60 loss to Nebraska, a team that finished last in the league, in the Big 12 tournament opener at the Sprint Center.
Or perhaps it was the four-day wait for a second chance that came in the form of a second-straight NCAA invitation.
“You can’t ever get a loss back,” senior forward Keith Ramsey said. “We were really disappointed in ourselves, so we have been giving everything we’ve had in practice. So we don’t have any more lapses like that, like we did against Nebraska.
“We had a day off on Thursday, and everybody was dreading it. We were just so mad that we were at home when other teams were playing, and we knew we were supposed to be there.”
A year ago, the Carroll-Lyons-Lawrence Tigers — having earned a first-round bye in the Big 12 tournament — rolled through Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor on the way to the tournament title.
That wasn’t momentum the Tigers — who were seeded third — rode into the NCAA Tournament in Boise, Idaho. It was a tidal wave that helped carry Mizzou past Cornell 78-59 and then Marquette 83-79.
In the West Regional semifinal in Glendale, Ariz., Missouri ran over Memphis 102-91. And even in falling one game short of the school’s first Final Four, those Tigers acquitted themselves well in an 82-75 loss to Connecticut.
This season, momentum is something to which the Tigers would love to be introduced.
Missouri pushed Kansas State but didn’t have enough push at the end to avoid a 63-53 loss in Manhattan. The Tigers barely escaped overtime at Iowa State with a 69-67 victory. And back home at Mizzou Arena for the regular-season finale, the Tigers lost 77-56 to Kansas.
Finishing with the fifth seed for the Big 12 tournament, Missouri fell to Nebraska, a team the Tigers had beaten twice in the regular season.
With that skid, Missouri enters NCAA play as an underdog. To win the first two games — if the Tigers beat Clemson, they would likely face second-seeded West Virginia in the second round — and move on to the East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y., Missouri will have to overcome three things that have plagued the Tigers in the last two weeks:
Too many minutes apportioned to too few players on the front line because of the ACL tear to Justin Safford’s left knee.
Too few rebounds from that depleted front line.
Shooting woes. Missouri, over its last four games, has hit a collective 91 of 250 shots overall (36.4 percent) and 18 of 80 threes (22.5 percent).
But as Anderson said, Sunday was about making a statement that Anderson wanted to make.
“I want a program,” Anderson said. “I don’t want a fly-by-night, one and done. Just a fad.”