The first 24 hours after a loss are never easy for Frank Haith, and Saturday was no different.
The Missouri’s men’s basketball coach couldn’t mask his disappointment following the Tigers’ loss in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals to Mississippi.
“It takes me a day to get over a tough loss,” Haith said Sunday. “But today, I could not sleep. I was excited about this afternoon.”
Indeed, after all his years in coaching, the 47-year old Haith hasn’t yet calloused himself to Selection Sunday, the day when college basketball teams learn their NCAA Tournament fate. So when Missouri was chosen as the No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region of this year’s 68-team field, Haith was, above all else, grateful.
“I never take it for granted,” Haith said. “I don’t know if people realize how hard it is to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s not that easy. There’s a lot of good teams, a lot of great tradition, not making the tournament. So I’m very proud of us being able to get back into this tournament.”
Especially after last season, when the senior-laded Tigers entered as a No. 2 seed but were upset by 15th-seeded Norfolk State in the round of 64.
And though Missouri — which lost six of its top seven players from a team that only went seven deep — managed to go 23-10 this season, that didn’t keep the Tigers from having to answer questions about last year’s upset — one of several gut-wrenching defeats that Missouri fans have dealt with over the years.
“It’s all about matchups,” Haith said. “I think last year’s game, we played a team that … we were small, they were big, and you look at the numbers, and we didn’t play poorly offensively. We shot over 50 percent from 3, and they played the game of their lives, and you’ve got to be prepared for that when you’re in that setting. That’s what this tournament is all about: guys living out a dream and making those ‘One Shining Moments.’”
Haith was also quick to point out that this year’s team has a number of players who have been waiting for this shining moment their whole lives. Junior guard Phil Pressey and senior forwards Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers are the only Tigers on the roster with NCAA Tournament experience.
“Only one guy (with us) played in that game, and that was Phil Pressey, so it’s a new team and we’re going to go at it,” Haith said. “I know we’ve got a lot of guys … that haven’t played in the tournament, like Keion Bell and Earnest Ross. They’re extremely excited about the opportunity to play and get a chance to compete when the lights are the brightest.”
Oriakhi, a transfer from UConn who won a national championship with the Huskies in 2011, said the advice he’s giving his teammates is rather simple.
“I just tell them that if you’re fortunate enough to get past the first (game), the rest of them are very hard,” said Oriakhi, whose Tigers face eighth-seeded Colorado State on Thursday in Lexington, Ky. “But all that told … don’t think too far ahead. I wouldn’t count anybody out in any of these tournaments.
“Anything can happen.”