University of Missouri Head Basketball Coach Mike Anderson has been saying all year long that his basketball team was playing for something special, exactly what that was, he was not sure.
After winning the Big 12 Tournament this past weekend, Anderson admitted what his team was playing for, a chance to play for the national championship.
"Our goal was to win the Big 12 Championship and to compete for a national championship," Anderson told the media Sunday afternoon. "You have to make it to the big dance to get that chance, and we now have the opportunity like 64 other teams, a chance to play for it all."
Missouri was named a three seed by the NCAA Selection Committee in the West Bracket, and will face Ivy League Champion Cornell in Boise, Idaho on Friday at 2:00 p.m. central time.
Missouri finished 28-6, with the Tigers winning all three of their Big 12 Tournament games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor. In Mike Anderson's third season as the head coach, the Tigers went undefeated at Mizzou Arena. Mizzou was 12-4 in Big 12 regular season action and 3-0 in Big 12 Tournament action.
The Tigers finished third overall in the Big 12 standings, earning the third overall seed in the conference tourney. Mizzou's only losses in conference play were all on the road to Nebraska, Kansas State, Kansas and Texas A&M. The Tigers had revenge for three of those losses at Mizzou Arena. Mizzou's other two losses came on neutral courts against Xavier in a holiday tournament and to Illinois in St. Louis, Missouri. Both non-conference losses are to NCAA Tournament-bound teams.
Anderson took over a program that was under disarray with problems on and off the court. His team went 16-16 last season, showing signs of being able to compete with the best in Big 12, but also struggling for consistency.
"This has been a work in progress," Anderson said recently. "We came together as a team this past summer. The senior leadership played a vital role in the turn around of this team. I have an outstanding coaching staff, but guys like DeMarre, Mike Jr, and Leo have played a major role and stepped up to lead this team."
Offensively, Missouri has topped the 80-point plateau 19 times in 34 games this season and is 18-1 on the year when scoring at least 80 points. Missouri has topped 80 points 43 times in the Mike Anderson era (95 games) .To put that scoring in perspective, the Tigers topped 80 points just 37 times (in total 160 games) the five seasons before his arrival.
Best Wins/Worst Losses
Meet the Tigers
"Our offense is set up by our defensive play," Carroll said earlier this season. "We score a lot of points due our defensive pressure and press. J.T. is the catalyst of our defense."
Tiller won Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors for his efforts this season.
Joining Carroll, Lyons, Lawrence and Tiller in the starting line-up is junior Zaire Taylor. The Delaware transfer has been a vital part of the Tiger attack as he has consistently played solid defense, improved his three-point shooting and made clutch shots. Taylor had the game-winning shots in Missouri's victories over Kansas and Texas.
In addition to the five starters, Mike Anderson routinely plays six players off the bench. Freshmen Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Justin Safford, Laurence Bowers and Miguel Paul join sophomore Justin Safford to give Missouri one of, if not the, deepest bench in the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA Tournament History
This season will mark the Tigers' 22nd NCAA appearance and first since the 2003 campaign. Overall, Missouri is 18-21 in the tournament's history and has reached the Elite Eight three times (1976, 1994, 2002).
Most recently, the Tigers lost in the second round to a Dwayne Wade-led Marquette team that went on to the Final Four in 2003. Prior to that, the Tigers made a run all the way to the Elite Eight in 2002 as a 12 seed under Head Coach Quin Snyder.
Current Tiger coach Mike Anderson will be making his fourth career NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach and first with Missouri. In his career, Anderson is 3-3 in the NCAA Tournament, taking UAB to three consecutive appearances and leading them as far as the Sweet 16 in 2004.
Missouri – Cornell History
Missouri and Cornell have only squared off once in the two teams' history in the NCAA. That meeting took place on December 7, 1973 when the Tigers, led by Head Coach Norm Stewart, easily dispatched Cornell, 82-45.
Meet the Big RedCornell is a team that relies on three-point shooting for much of its offensive production. Against a team so adept at shooting the long ball, the Tigers will have to identify the shooters out of traps and close-out quickly to force the Cornell players to put the ball on the floor.
Defensively, the Big Red like to play man-to-man, but occasionally use a 2-3 zone and zone press. It is likely that Cornell will have problems manning up with the Tigers' athletic forwards, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, especially considering seven-footer Jeff Foote will have to guard Carroll or Lyons on the perimeter. This could force the Big Red into a 2-3 zone, which would force the Tigers to beat them from behind the arc.
NCAA Tournament Projection
Missouri has the talent and make-up to dispatch Cornell in the first round in a game that will be decided by tempo and the Tigers ability to shoot the three, assuming Cornell moves into the 2-3. If the Tigers move past Cornell they will face the winner of the Marquette-Utah State match-up. While Marquette should take care of Utah State, they are just 1-5 since senior guard Dominic James went down to injury. Taking James injury into consideration, the Tigers should advance to the Sweet 16 where they would likely face-off with Memphis.
Can the Tigers beat the Memphis Tigers at their own game? Absolutely, don't be surprised if it happens. It will take the Missouri Tigers finally putting two halves together, something they have yet to do this season. That could mean the best is yet to come.
Erik Johnson contributed to this report.