Tigers set to play Cornell in NCAA Tournament

Sunday, March 15, 2009 | 5:34 p.m. CDT; updated 9:55 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Missouri's sophomore Justin Safford, left, and senior Matt Lawrence watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Sunday at the Clinton Club in Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — As he watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on CBS Sunday afternoon, Missouri guard Kim English put each team into its slot on his blank bracket.

Along with filling out all the teams in the first round, English put a familiar six-letter word in the spot reserved for the national champions: MIZZOU. As he was talking to reporters later, he dropped his bracket and flashed a smile as he quickly tucked it away.

Cornell breakdown

FROM: Ithaca, N.Y.
RECORD: 21-9; 7-3 in last 10 games
COACH: Steve Donahue
BID: Ivy League champion
TOURNAMENT RECORD: 0-4; 1954 — lost to Navy 69-67, lost to N.C. State 65-54; 1988 — lost to Arizona 90-50; 2008 — lost to Stanford 77-53
TOP SCORERS: Ryan Wittman 18.5; Louis Dale 13.5; Jeff Foote 11.8; Geoff Reeves 9.1
SKINNY: Cornell has won two straight Ivy League titles and was the first team to earn a bid to the tournament. The Big Red have won at least 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 110 years of basketball.

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"I'm not done yet," he said, without mentioning his prediction. "I've still got some games to fill out."

The 14th ranked Missouri Tigers, fresh off a Big 12 Conference tournament championship, were given a No. 3 seed in the tournament. For its first game on Friday, Missouri will head to Boise, Idaho, to play the No. 14 seed, Ivy League champion Cornell.

The team met in a banquet room at Mizzou Arena with friends, family and others affiliated with the athletic department to watch the show. Although players were milling around, smiling and giving autographs before it started, a hush of anticipation came over the crowd once the show began.

Of course, it was much more relaxed than the anxious silence that could be seen on television for teams like Penn State and St. Mary's, which ended up not being selected. Before the Tigers were chosen, English led cheers for the selection of the Big 12's Texas A&M and his hometown team, Maryland.

When Missouri was officially put into the tournament for the first time since 2003, senior guard Matt Lawrence stood up with both hands in the air, and the room exploded into cheers.

"It's a beautiful sight just to have the support that we did in that room and just to be able to see our name on that screen, finally," said junior guard J.T. Tiller, who had never even watched The Selection Show before.

Although the crowd released a slightly disappointed groan when Memphis was placed as a No. 2 seed in Kansas City before the selection of the Tigers, the end result wasn't much of a surprise. Certainly, Missouri would have preferred to play in front of a friendly crowd, but the team seemed happy to just get another opportunity to play.

"You just want to be in the tournament, I think, more than anything else," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "Where they send you, let's go play. We get a chance to play, I think that's the beauty of it all."

Even though the Tigers have won 28 games, they still have their doubters. CBS' Seth Davis said the top two seeds in Missouri's regional had a fairly easy road to the Elite Eight, because "I don't see much competition there for those two teams." The comment drew some boos from the Tigers crowd and could be bulletin board material for Anderson and his coaching staff.

"I appreciate Seth, I really do," Anderson said. "I appreciate Seth saying that."

Several Tigers were wearing their Big 12 championship hats, as if to remind themselves and the spectators of what they had accomplished. Anderson has brought his team a long way in two years, especially considering Missouri was 16-16 last season.

"We went through some storms, no question about it," Anderson said. "I think it makes it that much more pleasing to see where we are, but I don't think we're through yet."

When Missouri's name was put on the screen, English stood up and celebrated with teammates Keith Ramsey and Leo Lyons. But the celebration was short-lived, as if the team is waiting until it has more to celebrate.

After all, English still had to fill out the rest of his bracket.


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