COLUMBIA — After the seeds for the Big 12 Conference men's basketball tournament were announced, Missouri junior guard Marcus Denmon used the internet on his cell phone to pull up the tournament bracket. He said he didn't look long. He was only interested in one game.
“Texas Tech is all we can be worried about," Denmon said. "We know that first game is the most important, because if you don’t win that game there is no other game. That’s what we turn our focus to. The rest of the games, if we are fortunate enough to make it to those, we will cross that bridge when we get there."
No. 6 Missouri Tigers (22-9, 8-8 Big 12)
vs. No. 11 Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-18, 5-11 Big 12)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Sprint Center, Kansas City
RADIO: KTGR 1580 AM/100.5 FM
If Denmon would have looked more closely, he might have been relieved.
Missouri lost three consecutive games to end the regular season and is no longer ranked in the national polls. The Tigers tied for fifth place in the conference, but lost a tiebreaker to Colorado to fall to the No. 6 seed. At its lowest point, Missouri caught a break. The lower seed could be a blessing in disguise.
Sure, No. 5 Colorado gets to play its first tournament game against last-place Iowa State. But No. 4 Kansas State, winner of six games in a row, looms ahead.
Missouri's first game in the tournament comes Wednesday against No. 11 Texas Tech. Win that game, and the Tigers would meet No. 3 Texas A&M on Thursday.
Texas A&M has a higher seed than Kansas State but has struggled recently. The team lost two of its past three games, and defeated Missouri by only two points in overtime earlier this season in College Station, Texas. A rematch against the Aggies seems more favorable than another game against Kansas State.
But Denmon said he didn't look past Wednesday's game.
The Tigers already defeated Texas Tech 92-84 earlier this season, but they were not happy with how they closed out the game.
“We had a lot to do with that in terms of how they hung around,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. "But that game has nothing to do with this one. This is a new season.”
If the Tigers can't take anything from their previous game against the Red Raiders, they are certainly taking last season's immediate exit from the conference tournament into account.
A year ago, the Tigers traveled to Kansas City as a No. 5 seed, and were promptly sent home by No. 12 Nebraska.
“Last year we got beat in the first round by a Nebraska team that we beat convincingly two games during the regular season," Missouri junior forward Laurence Bowers said.
It gives strength to the argument that Anderson stresses. Every tournament game is like a whole new season. Bowers said it is the lure of the NCAA bid that can bring teams back to life come conference tournament time: Win this tournament, and you qualify for the national tournament despite your record.
"Teams that really don’t have a chance as far as resumes and wins, they’re playing their hearts out to win this tournament," Bowers said. "Everybody is gunning for everybody."
And Bowers said Texas Tech fits perfectly into the category.
“I feel like they’ve got nothing to lose.”