Schedule, close games didn't cost Tigers

When it came down to it, it wasn't Missouri's schedule. It definitely wasn't the talent, and it wasn't a few 1-point games. When the Tigers look back at their NCAA Tournament-less season, they will have to look at a few games in January and February where they just didn't show up.

It would be easier to believe the hype about the schedule.

It isn't as hard to grasp if you just think about all of those close losses.

But what Missouri is going through right now, picking their egos off the floor as they prepare for a first-round NIT matchup, isn't easy. So the Tigers might want to look at what really cost them a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee didn't snub Missouri because it didn't put weight into the schedule, and a few 1-point losses didn't cost the Tigers either. Missouri is heading to Ann Arbor for the NIT because it didn't win the games it was supposed to.

A 16-point loss in Lincoln. A 13-point loss in Boulder. A bad ending in Ames. Most memorably (or forgettable), a loss at home to Belmont. If you want to look at what cost the Tigers most, look at these games first before you start blaming the schedule. After all, the schedule was about the only thing keeping the Tigers in contention.

The schedule wasn't exactly brilliant, but it was a smart idea. Missouri coach Quin Snyder had the talent, he had the experience, and he had enough people telling him his team would be playing deep into March to put together a schedule that would get them ready.

Much like the Michigan State Spartans, another preseason favorite, Missouri stumbled through its tough schedule and finished 6-5 in nonconference play. Even with that mediocre showing, though, the Tigers had more than a chance to play in the NCAAs. With their schedule, finishing in the top four of the Big 12 would suffice (because obviously, the schedule strength hurt Colorado, which did finish fourth and is also only playing for a trip to Madison Square Garden).

So even if you throw away the Tigers' 1-4 record against the Big 12's NCAA Tournament teams, some of them close, Missouri could have tied Kansas for fourth by beating the teams they should have: Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa State. Simply put, none of those teams were as good as Missouri, but the Tigers sputtered on the road in the games they should have won. They can second-guess themselves as much as they want about the games they lost by a basket, but they can only blame themselves for these games where they just didn't show up.

Against the other two Big Ten tournament teams, Michigan State finished 0-4 this season. But the reason the Spartans are in, and a seventh seed at that, is because they took care of the games they should have, whether it be on the road or not. They gave the committee something else than just a tough schedule to look at. Missouri didn't, and that's why they didn't make the list for college basketball's biggest party.

On Sunday, Quin Snyder said he couldn't compare how much harder the conference road losses were to take than the close ones at home or in nonconference.

"They're all hard," Snyder said. "They're all losses."

Yes, but losses have to be harder when you know it was your team's heart, preparation and mentality rather than its talent. And it will likely be a long time before that ever gets easier. No run in the NIT can make up for that.

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