COLUMBIA, Mo. – For the first time in five years, the Missouri men’s basketball team is going dancing.
There wasn’t much drama during Sunday’s Selection Show either. All the players and coaches knew they were going to be in, it was just a matter of seeing the name pop up.
When it did, as an at-large team, the couple hundred fans that joined the watch party at Mizzou Arena cheered in unison.
“We expected for our name to be called, but for it to pop up there is really cool. We can’t wait to get down to Nashville,” said freshman Jontay Porter, who is averaging 21 points in the last three games.
Missouri will be heading back to Nashville, the site of Porter’s 24-point seven-rebound performance against Vanderbilt, for its NCAA Tournament game. The Tigers (20-12) received the No. 8 seed in the West Region and will play Florida State (20-11) at 8:45 p.m. on Friday at Bridgestone Arena. Missouri is 1-2 against Florida State. The Tigers lost the last matchup 68-64 on on Dec. 19, 1980.
The winner will likely play the West Region’s No. 1 seed Xavier (28-5), who will play the winner between No. 16 seeds North Carolina Central and Texas Southern.
Missouri will open the tournament with plus-10,000 odds to win the national championship, according to BetDSI Sportsbook. Those odds put Missouri among the top-20 of the 68 teams who earned a bid.
For Missouri this marks a complete turnaround from last season’s eight-win performance. After being part of last year’s team, it’s something junior Kevin Puryear doesn’t take for granted.
“Given the past I’m really savoring every moment and am extremely excited to be a part of this with these guys and these coaches,” said Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate.
The only drama of the night came regarding Missouri’s region. The West Region was the last region announced, and right before that the Midwest Region was announced.
An audible gasp was heard by the crowd when it realized the Tigers weren’t going to be matched in the Midwest region with rival Kansas who earned the No. 1 seed and will play in Wichita. Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin likes where the Tigers are set up, though.
After losing in Thursday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament, Martin is happy with the time, location and the days of practice his team will get.
“It’s great for us just to get a rhythm, continue to get reps under your belt,” Martin said.
Though Georgia, who Missouri lost to 62-60 on Thursday, didn’t get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, a league record eight teams did.
Regular-season champions Tennessee and Auburn are in, Kentucky received the conference’s automatic bid and along with Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida received at-large bids.
Texas A&M is the only other SEC team in Missouri’s region and it received a No. 7 seed.
Puryear called the SEC, which was only bested in bids by the Atlantic Coast Conference’s nine bids, the best league in the country.
“The players and good coaches is what makes the league,” Puryear said. “Definitely the best conference in America. When we compete against each other it only makes us better.”
Last year South Carolina made a run to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed. Puryear, or Kassius Robertson, wouldn’t say that is Missouri’s exact goal.
Reaching the NCAA Tournament was the goal for this team since June, Robertson said, but now it is focused on more.
“I think everybody on the team is already sizing up our matchup and saying we are about to make a deep run,” Robertson said. “I don’t think I have to convince anybody that we actually belong there. We all know we belong there and we all know we can make a run.”
WITHOUT BARNETT: Martin said that Missouri senior Jordan Barnett will not play in the NCAA Tournament opener, following his DWI arrest Saturday morning.
It is possible that Barnett could return Sunday, if Missouri defeats Florida State. Barnett will practice and travel with the team.
That leaves Missouri with just seven scholarship players available for the tournament and walk-on Brett Rau, who played nine minutes against Georgia.