Missouri likely needs at least two wins in Dallas to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
Missouri’s last-second loss to Kansas on Sunday was frustrating enough, but, to make the situation worse for the Tigers, the defeat might push them out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
After the game, senior guard Josh Kroenke was hopeful about the Tigers’ chances.
“If anybody can overcome adversity, it’s this team,” Kroenke said. “We’ve done it all year long, and I think we can continue to do it.”
Kroenke’s words were almost identical to his statements after the Tigers lost 78-62 at Nebraska on Feb. 7. Missouri followed that defeat with a six-game winning streak; it must hope for a similar turnaround in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, which starts for the Tigers against Texas A&M at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Dallas, to feel confident about its NCAA chances.
The Tigers (15-12, 9-7 Big 12) dropped to the No. 6 seed after losing to Kansas, forcing Missouri to play on the first day of the conference tournament. A win against the Aggies (7-20, 0-16) will do little to help Missouri’s postseason chances.
It might hurt. According to kenpom.com, Missouri’s Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a statistic that ranks a team’s success along with the achievements of the teams it plays and the teams its opponents play, was 39th in the nation through Monday. Missouri’s rating will drop because the Aggies’ RPI is 238th, and a loss to Texas A&M effectively ends the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament hopes.
If Missouri had beaten Kansas on Sunday, it would have received a first-round bye and faced Colorado in the second round. The Buffaloes (17-9, 10-6) find themselves in the same situation as Missouri: with an RPI of 53, Colorado boasts two wins, at home against the Tigers and Texas Tech, against teams with a strong chance to reach the NCAA Tournament. Missouri holds an edge in strength of schedule, ranking ninth to Colorado at 61st.
Had Missouri beaten Kansas, the Tigers’ NCAA chances would have increased dramatically. Instead, the Tigers need to beat Texas A&M and follow that with a win against Kansas in the second round Friday to solidify their postseason future.
“We just have to continue to play and believe and have faith in one another,” Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said. “It’s 0-0 now and that’s how we’ll go down (to Dallas), with that mental focus of winning ball games.”
Missouri coach Quin Snyder and several players stressed the importance of defense after the Kansas loss, an issue that brought the Tigers back-to-back losses to the Red Raiders and Jayhawks. Missouri surrendered 85.5 points in the two losses after allowing 70 points per game during its winning streak.
If the Tigers cannot correct their defensive problems immediately, they will push themselves out of the NCAA Tournament.
“Whenever people have counted us out, our main focuses (became) defending and rebounding,” Kroenke said. “I think if we continue to focus on that we’ll be OK.”
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner shared Kroenke’s view.
“The only thing we can control is how hard we’re playing,” Gardner said. “Our season isn’t over. The NCAA Tournament is something we can’t really control right now. If we’re in, we’re in. If we’re out, we’re out. Right now we just want to run up some wins in the Big 12.”
ESPN.com projects the Tigers as one of the last teams to receive an NCAA bid, garnering a No. 12 seed in the South region. CBSSportsline.com has bounced Missouri from its postseason projection, listing the Tigers as one of the last four teams out of the tournament.
Being on the bubble is a disappointing situation for the Tigers, who rose to No. 3 in early December. McKinney said he believes the team can string together several wins in the conference tournament and earn NCAA consideration.
“The people that get knocked down but get back up are the people that will be successful,” McKinney said. “That’s what I think this team is…
“We’ve been knocked down time after time after time, but we also got back up and come out there and fight every night.”