COLUMBIA — After it was announced Sunday afternoon that Missouri would play Cornell in the first round of this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, one thing quickly became clear.
All of the players, coaches and reporters present knew little about the two-time Ivy League Champions.
First round of NCAA men's basketball tournament
vs. Cornell (21-9)
When: 2 p.m. Friday
Where: Boise, Idaho
TV: KRCG/Channel 13
"They, um...what do I know about Cornell?," Missouri guard J.T. Tiller said. "They're a very good team. They have very good guard play, I know that for a fact."
Indeed, freshman guard Chris Wroblewski shot 44 percent from 3-point range this season and earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Ivy League. Cornell is the third-best 3-point shooting team in the country, shooting 41.5 percent as a team.
Louis Dale, a 5-foot-11 junior, was the Ivy League Player of the Year last season and averaged 13.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Big Red this season. The team went 4-4 while he missed the team's first eight games with a hamstring injury. Since then, it is 17-5.
Dale was originally recruited by his hometown school, the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Missouri's Mike Anderson was the head coach at the time, and he got to know Dale and his grandfather, who was a professor at the university.
"He used to come up there and play in tournaments, play up there with our guys," Anderson said. "He’s a good kid."
But then Anderson left for Missouri and Dale, who the Tigers' coach said is a "tremendous student," decided to take his talents to Ithaca, New York.
When Dale was a sophomore last year, Cornell coach Steve Donahue led his team to an undefeated 14-0 season in the Ivy League, and the school's first NCAA tournament bid in since 1988. Now in his ninth year, Donahue credits Dale and fellow first-team All-Ivy League junior Ryan Wittman for allowing his team to play a faster, better brand of basketball.
As a No. 14 seed last season, Cornell lost 77-53 in its opening round game against No. 3 seed Stanford. But starter Jason Hartford, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds, is the only player who didn't return from last year's Ivy League Champions.
In contrast, reserve guard Michael Anderson, Jr., is the only Missouri player who has ever played in the NCAA tournament, a fact Donahue called "fortunate" for his team.
The Ivy League is the only conference in the country that does not have a conference tournament. Instead, its automatic NCAA bid goes to the regular season champion. Cornell's most recent game was a 60-51 win against Princeton on March 7, so it gets 13 days of rest before meeting Missouri.
Donahue said he's taken a different approach from last season, when he didn't change anything in all of the practices leading up to the tournament.
"We had a bike day where we just rode the bikes all day," Donahue said. "We had a shooting day. If we're going to be rusty, at least we're going to be fresh."
The Big Red finished 0-4 against NCAA tournament teams this season, including a game against the No. 15 team in the country. Without Dale, Cornell jumped out to a 25-9 lead at Syracuse before falling 88-78 on Dec. 3.
Cornell is 0-4 in the NCAA tournament in school history, and all Ivy League champions have struggled in recent years. Since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the Ivy League is 3-24, and no team has made it past the first round. The last team to win a game was nationally-ranked Princeton against the No. 12 seed, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, in the first round in 1998.