COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Missouri women’s basketball team is officially heading to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers (23-10, 10-6 SEC) earned a No. 7 seed and will play No. 10 seed Drake (27-6, 17-1 MVC) at 3 p.m. Friday in Iowa City.
Making the field was business as usual for the Missouri program. How the Tigers found out about their seeding, though, defied the norm. ESPN leaked the NCAA Tournament women’s bracket on ESPNU – it says by accident – hours before the selection show and MU video coordinator Mike Donovan saw it on social media.
Donovan told Missouri coach Robin Pingeton and they sat anxiously on Twitter, waiting for more screenshots of the bracket. A much different form of suspense ensued, rather than what the Monday night show would have presented.
Pingeton prefers the show.
“I think for our fans, that's really important to us. To be able to celebrate it with them is something that is really important to us,” Pingeton said. “It’s unfortunate but that’s what transpired so you have to move along quickly.”
After finding out the team’s seeding, Pingeton made her way to the team locker room. Pingeton is rarely in the locker room before practice, so her players thought something was wrong.
“We were all like, ‘Oh shoot, what is going on?’” Missouri senior Lauren Aldridge said.
Pingeton told the team its seeding. Nobody believed her at first, seeing as the only time an NCAA Tournament bracket had been leaked was in 2016, when the men’s bracket was leaked during the CBS selection show.
But once Pingeton shared who, when and where the Tigers were playing, the team believed her and got excited.
“Everybody went crazy. It was your typical what you would expect us to when they announce it on the selection show,” Aldridge said. “It was a cool moment for our team to share it together.”
There was some surprise with the seeding, however.
Throughout the Tigers' week off, which came after losing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals March 9, the team kept up to date with the latest projections. Missouri, as of Monday morning, was projected as a No. 5 seed playing in Corvallis, Oregon, in Charlie Creme’s bracketology on ESPN.
Instead, Missouri dropped two seed lines, but will head to a location easy for its fans to get to.
“To have our fans travel with us would be a great experience,” Amber Smith said.
And it’s not a location short on storylines. Missouri’s first tournament game, against Drake, will pit the Tigers against former player Grace Berg's program. Berg, a freshman who transferred in January, is now at Drake but can’t play until next season. Drake also features Truman High School graduate Becca Jonas.
If Missouri wins, it will play the winner of No. 2 seed Iowa (26-6, 14-4 Big 10) and No. 15 seed Mercer (25-7, 14-0 Southern). Iowa, which is hosting the first two rounds as part of the Greensboro region, is coached by Lisa Bluder. Bluder coached Pingeton at St. Ambrose University from 1986-90.
Pingeton wouldn’t delve into that storyline too much – at least not yet.
“It’s one game at a time, that’s where our focus is, and if we get to that point we will talk about it,” Pingeton said. “It is pretty ironic that both (Drake coach) Jennie (Baranczyk) and I coached and played for Lisa Bluder. It’s kind of interesting how intertwined these relationships are.”
Right now, Missouri is working toward getting out of the first round. The Tigers failed to get out of the first round last year, getting upset by Florida Gulf Coast.
The memory of that loss has been burned into Aldridge’s mind and is motivation for the guard going into her final tournament run.
“We have talked the entire year about what it was like after that Florida Gulf Coast game,” Aldridge said. “I think our team grew from that and matured from that. I think it will give us a different perspective and focus, for sure.”