Missouri coach Brian Smith said he is confident his wrestling team can beat the best teams in the nation. To win the Big 12 Conference Tournament, it’s going to have to.
Smith said he thinks this season’s Big 12 Tournament could be the toughest to date. The five teams in the conference will meet Saturday at Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum.
Smith said the meet, which starts at 10 a.m., was the most talked about Big 12 Tournament he has heard of.
“It’s the first time all five teams are in the top 10,” Smith said. “It’s the first time you have three or four of them that could win a national title.”
Fifth-ranked Missouri might be one of the best teams in the nation but is fourth in the conference. Oklahoma State enters the tournament with the nation’s top ranking. Smith is optimistic despite the caliber of competition.
“I know this team is the most prepared, most confident team I’ve ever taken in there,” Smith said. “That’s on the one side. On the other side, it’s the toughest the conference has ever been.”
Smith said qualifying for the March 18-20 NCAA championships in St. Louis at Savvis Center is tough for everyone. The top two or three wrestlers in the conference at each weight class get invited to the NCAA Tournament.
“You have to really place in the top three to get out and almost every guy is ranked in the country,” Smith said. “You can’t make a mistake and you’ve got to show up and wrestle your best.”
To make sure Missouri is at its best, Smith relaxed his practice schedule. He said the wrestlers should be ready and he wants their bodies refreshed for the tournament.
“We’re six months into the season,’’ Smith said. “These guys should have their confidence. They should just be tweaking little things.”
He said he could tell the team was more relaxed and hungry to be on the mat.
“Saturday we finished and the whole team stuck around and was laughing, sitting around the mat still working on technique and that was 15-20 minutes after practice,” Smith said. “They’re just happy to be in the room.
Missouri senior Kenny Burleson, ranked sixth at 157, said he feels the effects and is confident that he can wrestle his best Saturday.
“I can beat everybody there and I can beat everybody in the country right now,” Burleson said. “I’ve just got to get out there and do what I can do and make things happen.”
Although Burleson is confident in his abilities, he worries at night.
“I guess every night you go to bed you just want the tournament to be the next day,” Burleson said. “It’s the only thing on my mind right now and the only thing I’m looking forward to is nationals.
“Big 12 is the qualifier for the NCAA’s so it’s like every day you just think about it constantly and you’re thinking about the tournament.”