TIGER TIPOFF: ESPN's Pat Forde analyzes MU men's basketball team's tournament chances

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT senior writer Pat Forde is predicting that Missouri will lose its first game in the NCAA Tournament against Cincinnati.

“I just think Cincinnati’s a better team, and Mizzou has too many weaknesses, too many holes," said Forde, an MU graduate, in a telephone interview Monday.

Thursday's NCAA Tournament opener

Eleventh-seeded Missouri Tigers (23-10)
vs. sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats (25-8)

WHEN: 8:50 p.m. CT
WHERE: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM

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Missouri enters the tournament after losing four of its past five games, with its only win in that span coming against Texas Tech, which finished the season at 13-19. The last time Missouri beat a team that is in this year's NCAA Tournament field was on Jan. 17 when the Tigers defeated Kansas State at home.

Forde said the Tigers need to figure out a way to play better away from Mizzou Arena to make a successful run in the NCAA Tournament.

“They seem like a completely different team at home versus road or neutral sites, so that’s the first thing,” Forde said. “And secondly, I think they’ve got to guard better. This hasn’t been a good defensive team, I think, especially by (Missouri coach) Mike Anderson standards. It would be great to see some of their upperclassmen step up and perform well, like (Missouri junior guard) Kim English, since he has kind of been up and down all year.”

In the final weeks of the regular season, Missouri was projected to be anywhere from a No. 7 to No. 10 seed. But when the brackets were announced on Sunday, the NCAA selection committee had the Tigers as a No. 11 seed.

“I thought the seeding seemed about right for what they are,” Forde said. “Too many late losses and not enough work on the road or neutral sites."

Missouri opens what it calls a "new season” on Thursday when it faces No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the first round at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

“It will be an interesting game,” Forde said. “Cincinnati has a good, physical mix, very much a Big East team in that respect. Have they seen what Missouri does? Probably not. I mean, Marquette does run a little more press-oriented style, so I think they (Cincinnati) have seen some similarities, but I don’t think they’ve seen quite exactly what Missouri does.”

If Missouri beats Cincinnati it will face the winner of a game between No. 3 seed UConn and No. 14 seed Bucknell. Forde said if Missouri can get past Cincinnati that Missouri’s fast-paced style of play will benefit the Tigers because of the short amount of time that teams have off before the next round’s games.

“Very few teams play the way that Missouri does,” Forde said. “Most teams aren’t accustomed to being harassed for 40 minutes in that fashion, so I think it’s kind of a shock to the system for a lot of opponents. The other thing is, when you’re playing second- and fourth-round games on a two-day turnaround, if Missouri gets to the second round, that’s a tough style to go against if you’re tired from the game before.”

Forde’s other predictions for the NCAA Tournament included a Final Four lineup of Ohio State, Duke, Notre Dame and Kansas State. He also said he thought No. 13 seed Oakland could upset No. 4 seed Texas and that No. 13 seed Belmont could surprise No. 4 seed Wisconsin.

Forde, a 1987 MU graduate, writes two columns for ESPN including "Forde Minutes" during the college basketball season and "Forde-Yard Dash" during the college football season.

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