BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Michael Dixon Jr. walked into practice on Monday, everyone was surprised by his appearance.
He was barely recognizable. The tightly bound braids that dangled just below his neck that he had become known for were gone. All that was left was a light outline of where the braids used to be on his freshly shaved head.
No. 10 seed Missouri (22-10, 10-6) vs. No. 7 seed Clemson (21-9, 9-7)
WHEN: 1:35 p.m.
WHERE: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
TV: CBS - KRCG/Channel 13 (Gus Johnson play-by-play; Len Elmore analyst)
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
ONLINE: Uninterupted viewing at NCAA.com
SERIES: Tied 1-1. Clemson won 47-45 Nov. 30, 1996 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
MISSOURI KEY: Limit 3-point shots: Missouri doesn’t need to limit Clemson's 3-point shooting, its needs to limit its own. In Missouri’s past three losses, it averaged 20 3-point shots a game. When it doesn’t settle for 3-point shots, its offense is more balanced and effective.
Coach: Oliver Purnell, 7th season
Last Season: 23-9 (9-7 in ACC)
THE SKINNY: Clemson has stumbled into the tournament much like Missouri. Clemson lost its first game of the ACC Tournament and has gone 6-6 to end the season. Led by athletic forward Trevor Booker, Purnell is looking for his first NCAA Tournament victory.
CLEMSON KEY: Use Booker: With the injury of forward Justin Safford, Missouri lacks frontcourt depth. Clemson needs to put the ball in the hands of its best player and get Missouri in foul trouble to win.
WATCH FOR: Trevor Booker: The 6-7 senior averages 15.3 points a game and is the anchor for Clemson’s fast break offense. He has the ability to take over games both offensively and defensively, averaging 1.4 blocks a game.
“Everybody was kind of shocked because they didn’t believe that I was going to get my hair cut because I had it for so long,” Dixon said. “I told them, but they just thought I was joking.”
When Missouri guard Marcus Denmon found out, he just laughed. However, for the first time since he was 10 years old, Dixon got his haircut.
“I just wanted to get something new for the tournament because the tournament is kind of a new thing for me,” Dixon said. “I just wanted to represent the beginning of the new season.”
Dixon said he wanted a clean start for Missouri's first-round NCAA Tournament game against Clemson on Friday at HSBC Arena, and he decided he would shave his head after Selection Sunday. Denmon said Dixon thought the new haircut was going to help the team win.
“We all laughed about it because he thought it was going to make us win,” Denmon said. “But that’s him.”
The result has been an endless array of compliments from the team. Dixon said that everyone from fans and coaches to his teammates were excited by his shaved haircut. Missouri guard Jarrett Sutton called it the “point guard cut,” while others like Keith Ramsey said he thought Dixon was about two decades late with his old hair style.
“It’s a good look for him,” Ramsey said. “But braids were played out in the '90s.”
Growing up, Dixon always had his hair in braids trying to imitate his cousin. He said the thought of cutting his hair never crossed his mind. Once he tried the braids he never wanted to go back. However, recently it has become more of a burden. When the braids were taken apart, Missouri guard Kim English said it extended out like a globe resting on his head. Dixon said it took him more than an hour to get his hair ready.
“I was just kind of sick of having to deal with it,” Dixon said. “Because I’ve been dealing with it for so long.”
Now he looks like a completely different person. English said with his head shaved, Dixon actually looks taller and faster. Missouri guard Jarrett Sutton said that he had to do a double-take when he first saw Dixon.
“He looks like a different guy,” Sutton said. “He looks completely different.”
Missouri assistant coach Matt Zimmerman said the new look could help Dixon mentally. Zimmerman said playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time can be stressful because the atmosphere is so different. With eight teams playing in one city, the crowd is divided into eight portions meaning it could go from quiet to loud at any point based on the flow of the game. Zimmerman said a new haircut might not mean Dixon will play better, but it can help.
“Hair does not make the player,” Zimmerman said. “But he feels good about it. And if he feels good, then we’re happy.”
Even though only some of the players think the new haircut will provide them with good luck, if Missouri does win multiple games, Dixon might not even have a choice about his hairstyle.
“If we keep winning,” English said. “I’m going to make him keep it short.”