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Bracketologists: Missouri looks NIT-bound

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 | 9:18 p.m. CST; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Missouri’s postseason seems destined for the National Invitation Tournament, though poor play down the stretch could lead the Tigers to the new College Basketball Invitational, according to some Internet “bracketologists.”

“I believe Missouri, provided it finishes at .500 or better overall, will be in the NIT,” Bracketology creator and ESPN’s resident postseason predictor Joe Lunardi said via e-mail.

Missouri is 14-12 overall and 4-7 in Big 12 Conference play with five regular season games remaining. Of those five, three are at home against teams with equal or worse records than the Tigers.

“Right now I’d expect them to finish with 17 wins or so and that would probably be good enough for NIT,” said Mike Scullin, who runs nitology.com, one of the few NIT prediction Web sites. “They’ll probably be a three or four seed, maybe one or two.”

Missouri hasn’t been to the postseason since losing to DePaul in the first round of the NIT in 2005, and the NIT made entry more difficult before last season when it changed formats to give mid-major schools a better chance and reduced its field from 40 to 32.

That format change could have cost Missouri a postseason bid last season, but this season the Tigers have the CBI to fall back on.

In November, the new 16-team CBI was introduced as a rival to the NIT by the Gazelle Group, which runs several early-season tournaments including the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic that Missouri played in last November.

The CBI will invite 16 teams that are not invited to the 65-team NCAA Tournament, although it is widely considered the third-tier postseason tournament, behind the NIT. A mock bracket on the CBI’s Web site of which teams would have made the CBI last season includes Missouri.

“I think they may end up there,” said Chris Kulenych, who has run the popular Bracketology 101 blog, bracketology101.blogspot.com, since 2004. “I don’t know if the NIT is even a realistic option at this point.”

When asked his opinions on a tournament that would essentially be determining the 98th best team in the country, MU coach Mike Anderson said he hadn’t “even given it a thought.”

“I haven’t even thought about it,” Anderson said. “I’m living in today. Today’s practice, then we talk about the next game.”

The bracketologists didn’t set a ceiling for the Tigers either. They are one of four Big 12 teams with four wins. If Missouri could get to the front of that pack it would be seventh in the conference, and most predictions have six Big 12 teams making the NCAA Tournament as of right now. The problem: Missouri is 3-7 in its last 10 games.

“Out of that four-win group there, they probably have the best chance just from what they did in the out-of-conference season,” Kulenych said. “Their problem is they’ve just got to win games quick. The NIT is not going to take a team that has been playing as poor as they have been lately.”

Of course, the Tigers could always run the table in the Big 12 Tournament and get an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

For now though, the team is focused on its home game against Colorado on Saturday.

“We’ve got five games left, and I think that’s more important right now,” Anderson said. “Colorado is the next game; it’s a big game.”


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