COLUMBIA — Thousands of fans joined the Missouri men's basketball team at Mizzou Arena for a Selection Sunday celebration and learned the Tigers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will play No. 15 seed Norfolk State on Friday in Omaha, Neb.
"Whether we're a one seed, a two seed, or a three seed, let's be excited," Haith told the fans before the announcement was made on CBS's television broadcast.
The Mizzou Ticket Office was allocated a limited number of tickets, and only 2011 Tiger Scholarship Fund members may request seats for Friday's game in Omaha, Neb. For details, call the Mizzou Ticket Office at 1-800-CAT-PAWS, or the Tiger Scholarship Fund at 573-882-0704.
No one was surprised that Kentucky was named the overall No. 1 seed. But when North Carolina, Syracuse and Michigan State received the remaining No. 1 seeds, Missouri fans showed their disapproval.
When Missouri was announced the No. 2 seed in the West region, a confetti cannon was shot off and the crowd cheered.
In a CBS interview after the bracket was announced, Jeff Hathaway, the selection committee chair, said Missouri's low strength of schedule in nonconference play this season also left the Tigers trailing Kansas, Duke and Ohio State, despite the Tigers' 30-4 record after Saturday's victory over Baylor in the Big 12 Conference Tournament championship.
Kansas, which won the Big 12 regular season title but lost in the semifinal of the Big 12 Tournament, received the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region in St. Louis, which many saw as the most favorable spot for the Tigers.
Duke is the No. 2 seed in the South region, and Ohio State is the No. 2 seed in the East region.
But Sunday's event was still a contrast to last season, when the Tigers gathered at the Clinton Club to find out they were a No. 11 seed in the tournament. This was after being eliminated in the Big 12 Tournament by Texas A&M in the quarterfinal, with doubts looming that Missouri would even receive a bid.
"It was a lot less stressful than last year," senior Ricardo Ratliffe said Sunday. "It's real easy when you know that you're in there, but you're still anxious."
Before Sunday's announcement, transfer Keion Bell's song "Welcome to the Zou" was played, accompanied by basketball highlights from the Tigers' season.
Seniors Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore each gave short speeches after the seeding was announced.
"I don't know about y'all, but I feel real real right now," Steve Moore said. "I want to thank coach Haith for believing in a big guy like me, for actually putting me on the court and letting me play this year."
He then tweeted, "Man I was nervous."
"This really is a special day for us to go for our fourth consecutive NCAA tournament," Denmon said.
Preparation for Friday began immediately after the announcement was made, with much of the coaching staff heading directly to their offices to begin work scouting Norfolk State.
The Spartans (25-9) won their seventh straight Saturday in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title game to earn their first NCAA tournament berth. Kyle O'Quinn, the league's regular-season MVP, scored 18 points for Norfolk State in a 73-70 win over Bethune-Cookman.
Haith said the Tigers will benefit from playing Friday instead of Thursday, with his team needing the extra time to rest and recover from a rough Big 12 Tournament.
In the semifinal Friday against Texas, English took a hard hit to his thigh and had to be helped to the locker room. Denmon twisted his ankle in the first two minutes of the game.
"Adversity is part of life. We haven't had injuries all season," Haith said. "But we found a way to win. We handled adversity one more time."
Haith said while his team will carry the momentum of the Big 12 Championship into the tournament, he is not putting a lot of stock into the seeding. He said regardless of what seed Missouri is, it will have to play great teams to advance to the National Championship game in New Orleans.
"It's a new season, so to speak," Haith said. "This is truly, truly unbelievable. It's been a special gift. It's been a tremendous run. But these guys want more."