COLUMBIA — There was something missing.
Matt Lawrence and DeMarre Carroll, both juniors, took their seats behind microphones for the postgame press conference after Missouri lost to Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
In the Tigers’ locker room, every player with eligibility remaining sat on folding chairs to answer questions, even guards Michael Anderson Jr. and Nick Berardini, neither of whom played Thursday night.
But the talk of postseason play was missing. Questions and answers were about what is in store for the Tigers next season and what kind of emotions were present during this season.
The message was evident on Thursday in Kansas City: the season is over.
With a final record of 16-16, ashot at the National Invitation Tournament is unlikely. Sure, the new College Basketball Invitational could be an option, but it appears to be one Missouri is not considering.
“My expectation every year is to be in the NCAA Tournament, or, of course, the NIT. And that’s how I feel,” coach Mike Anderson said after the Tigers’ loss to Nebraska on Thursday.
Forward Leo Lyons talked about how the NCAA Tournament is the primary focus for the Tigers.
“Nobody wants to play in the losers’ tournament,” Lyons said, referencing both the NIT and the CBI. “All we can do is work hard and try to get better.”
At the outset of the season, Missouri was picked by the Big 12 Conference’s coaches to finish fifth, but a season that promising outlook grew disappointing with losses to Illinois and Iowa State, and disheartening when five players were suspended after a fight outside of the Athena Night Club in January.
This year, Missouri returned all but three players from a team that finished sixth in the Big 12 a year before, which had people such as Kansas coach Bill Self saying, “I don’t see how they can keep from being better,” at the Big 12’s media day in October.
Missouri wound up in 10th place in the Big 12 Conference, and for the second year in a row, lost in the first round of the conference tournament.
Next year, the Tigers will welcome seven new players to their roster: freshmen Laurence Bowers, Marcus Denmon, Kimmie English, Steve Moore and Miguel Paul, junior college transfer Keith Ramsey and Zaire Taylor, who becomes eligible after sitting out this season under the NCAA’s rules. With that much change to the roster after a disappointing season, it’s unlikely the Tigers will have the same kind of buzz before next year that they had before this season.
There has even been some talk that Lyons, a junior, will skip his final season in pursuit of professional basketball. It’s unlikely that Lyons would be selected in the NBA Draft, in which only 60 players are picked each year, but playing basketball in Europe could be an option.
Such a development would parallel junior guard Thomas Gardner’s decision to pass on his senior year after the 2005-06 seasonbut wasn’t selected in the NBA draft and played professionally in Europe.
The glimmer of light is which players could return for Missouri next year.
If Lyons chooses to stay for his final year, the Tigers would have their five leading scorers back, if you don’t include Stefhon Hannah, who was dismissed from the team in early February. Joining Lyons would be Carroll, Matt Lawrence, Keon Lawrence and J.T. Tiller.
“I think some of the foundation, you can see, some of it’s laid,” Anderson said. “That’s why we had the movement with our young guys.”
The “young guys” Anderson mentioned were Keon Lawrence, Tiller, Carroll, Lyons, Matt Lawrence and Justin Safford.
“You saw that movement where those guys were playing quite a bit, hopefully we can add on with the recruiting class we have,” Anderson said. “We’re laying the foundation in terms of what we want to be about and how we’re going to do it.”