Norfolk State prepares to play Missouri in the NCAA men's basketball tournament

Tuesday, March 13, 2012 | 7:14 p.m. CDT; updated 12:39 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Norfolk State center Kyle O'Quinn (10) hugs teammate Kris Brown after Norfolk State won the NCAA Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men's college basketball tournament championship game in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Saturday.

When Norfolk State arrives Wednesday in Omaha, Neb., it will be there to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

On Friday, the Spartans will face No. 2 seed Missouri (30-4). It will be Norfolk State's first NCAA Tournament game. Not even any of Norfolk State's coaches have NCAA Tournament experience.

Missouri's NCAA Tournament opener

No. 2 seed Missouri (30-4)
vs. No. 15 seed Norfolk State (25-9)

WHEN: 3:40 p.m. Friday
CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Neb.
KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM; KCMQ/96.7 FM

The Missouri men's basketball team is inviting fans to Mizzou Arena for a sendoff celebration for the Tigers. Coach Frank Haith will address supporters at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on the south side of Mizzou Arena before the team boards its bus for Omaha, Neb.

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The Spartans (25-9) earned a No. 15 seed after winning their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title Saturday, beating Bethune-Cookman 73-70. Norfolk State went 13-3 in the MEAC during the regular season, finishing one game behind Savannah State.

"You dream about this coming up as a coach," Spartans coach Anthony Evans said by phone. "It's certainly a challenge but it's a great opportunity."

Evans is attempting to be the fifth coach to lead a No. 15 seed to an NCAA Tournament victory. The last time a No. 15 seed beat a No. 2 seed was in 2001, when Norfolk State's conference rival Hampton beat Iowa State (a Big 12 school) 58-57.

"History is gonna be history," Evans said. "We're just gonna play basketball. Anything can happen on any given day."

Norfolk State has one player that could certainly create problems for Missouri on Friday.

On Sunday, Missouri senior Kim English, who seems to know everything about college basketball, was already talking about Kyle O'Quinn, the Spartans' 6-foot-10 senior forward.

O'Quinn is a potential NBA draft pick who led Norfolk State with 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game this season. His stats are down slightly from last season, when he averaged 16.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

"He's the heart and soul of this basketball team," Evans said. "He has to be the focal point, he has to stay aggressive. We're hoping that he can create some havoc on Friday."

Despite having only two forwards, Missouri has had success against bigger teams this season. Seniors Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe, both of whom are shorter than O'Quinn, held 7-1 Illinois center Meyers Leonard to just 14 points earlier this season.

Evans' said his biggest concern about Missouri is that they play so selflessly.

He compared the Tigers to Marquette, a team the Spartans lost to twice during the season, because "they want to get up and down and score." He said Missouri is a little quicker, but less physical, and that they create problems because they are able to get to the basket and also shoot well.

Missouri has a good amount of NCAA Tournament experience. This is the fourth consecutive year that the Tigers are competing in the tournament. New head coach Frank Haith coached in the tournament once during his tenure at Miami.

If Missouri beats Norfolk State, they will face either No. 7 seed Florida or No. 10 seed Virginia on Sunday. But they know better than to look ahead.

"It's the best tournament in the world for a reason," English said.

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