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Missouri men's basketball preparing for NCAA March Madness Tournament opener

Monday, March 18, 2013 | 9:59 p.m. CDT; updated 12:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Colorado State's Colton Iverson dunks during the second half of a game against Fresno State on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Colorado State defeated Fresno State 67-61.

COLUMBIA — Mizzou Arena was quiet late Sunday night except for a few Missouri men's basketball players practicing layups on Norm Stewart Court.

It was a completely different scene from last year's grand confetti-filled Selection Sunday watch party. The same arena was filled with loud fans celebrating Missouri's No. 2 seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

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This year, the Tigers gathered by themselves at Mizzou Arena to find out Missouri will be a No. 9 seed and play No. 8-seed Colorado State (25-8 overall, 11-5 Mountain West) in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Although the Tigers players said in a news conference after the bracket was announced that they were appreciative and excited to play in the tournament, their stoic expressions reflected a different mood.

Forward Alex Oriakhi's usual jokes and wide smile were absent. Forward Laurence Bowers and point guard Phil Pressey were also quieter than normal.

They talked about things such as playing with urgency and extreme preparation if they wanted to extend their season.

Missouri had shown flickers of those qualities last week at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville. The Tigers easily handled Texas A&M in their opener and jumped out to a solid lead against Ole Miss in the quarterfinals Friday. But Missouri, which won the Big 12 Tournament just last season, allowed the Rebels to rally back from a 14-point deficit and lost 64-62 on a botched inbound pass with less than a minute to go in the game.

On Sunday, Tigers coach Frank Haith claimed he was over the disappointment and looking forward to Thursday's 8:20 p.m. game in Lexington, Ky.

"Yesterday was a tough day because it takes me a day to get get over a tough loss," he said. "But I couldn't sleep and was excited about this (Sunday) afternoon."

Still, the Tigers face a difficult task. If they get past the Rams, who play similarly with physical rebounding abilities, No. 1 seed Louisville is likely to be waiting. Missouri fell 84-61 to the Cardinals on Nov. 23 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

As soon as Missouri learned its matchup, the coaching staff started to gather film of the Rams. As soon as the players finished talking to the media, they walked to their nearby weight room to work out.

Haith spoke Monday morning in the Southeastern Conference teleconference about what he found out about Colorado State.

"They go to the glass as well as anybody else in the country," he said. "They're tough, they're physical … They're an older team, very experienced, just a very good basketball team."

Colorado State redshirt senior forward Colton Iverson leads his team in scoring (14 points per game) and rebounds (9.9 points per game). Bowers, who played Iverson in Amateur Athletic Union tournaments before coming to Missouri, said he was a challenge back then and probably still is.

"We're going to prepare to go to war on the boards with him and get a win," Bowers said.

The Rams and Tigers are both elite rebounding teams. Missouri is second in the nation in rebounds, averaging 41.4 per game. Colorado State is fourth in the nation, averaging 40.4 per game.

Colorado State reached the tournament this year in its first season under coach Larry Eustachy. Before taking over the Rams, he coached at Southern Mississippi and Iowa State.

While with the Cyclones in 2003, a loss to the Tigers in Columbia proved notable after The Des Moines Register ran a photo of Eustachy drinking that night at a postgame party in Columbia. The publicity resulted in his suspension and eventual resignation.

Eustachy, who has admitted to alcoholism, has done well as a coach, going 25-9 at Southern Mississippi in 2011 before finding more success at Colorado State this season.


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