After a disappointing season that ended with a 16-13 record, Missouri found itself outside of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years and took what remained.
The Tigers are one of five Big 12 Conference teams to accept a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, the postseason tournament that invites teams denied a trip to the NCAA Tournament, on Sunday. Missouri will face Michigan in the first round at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The winner plays either Oklahoma or Louisiana State, which play at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Norman, Okla.
Missouri will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since coach Quin Snyder took control of the program before the 1999-2000 season. The Tigers’ last NIT appearance was in the 1997-98 season, when they lost to Alabama-Birmingham 93-86 in the first round.
Snyder suggested Friday that he would accept an NIT bid and confirmed that Sunday.
“Everybody, I think, in college basketball at the beginning of the year, their goal is to make the NCAA Tournament and to win the national championship,” Snyder said. “We’re no different. When that opportunity is not available to you, you have another opportunity. That’s where we find ourselves right now.”
By losing its last two regular-season games, Missouri stumbled into the Big 12 Conference Tournament as the No. 6 seed. Likely needing two wins to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers snuck by Texas A&M 74-68 on Thursday and then Kansas hammered them 94-69 on Friday. Even the win against the Aggies was detrimental; it dropped Missouri’s RPI, a factor the NCAA selection committee strongly considers. According to kenpom.com, Missouri finished 51st in the country, not strong enough to earn one of 34 at-large invitations.
“We would have been one of the last teams in, but ... you could make a case for a lot of teams,” Snyder said. “That’s the way the selection happens every year.”
Even though the Wolverines (18-11) advanced to the Big 10 Conference semifinal game against Illinois, their 74-60 loss burst their NCAA Tournament hopes. Sophomore swingman Lester Abram leads Michigan with 13.4 points per game. Sophomore guard Daniel Horton, brother of 2004 Missouri recruit Daniel Horton, averages 11.8 points and 3.3 assists.
Missouri is 1-5 in the NIT. Its win came against Murray State, an 89-85 victory, March 13, 1996.
Snyder referenced the Tigers’ nonconference schedule as an argument for their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. After close losses to NCAA-bound Illinois, Memphis and Gonzaga outside of league play, the Tigers held a 6-5 nonconference record, but it was not enough.
“We do have an opportunity to evaluate objectively our scheduling flaws,” Snyder said. “I do believe that what we’ve been told often is that you’re rewarded for playing a difficult schedule, and that wasn’t the case here.”
Snyder acknowledged that a few more wins would have secured a bid.
“Had we played better, we would not be in this situation,” he said. “We had more games in a year than I can remember as a player or coach that were decided by a point or two points or overtime. Had we won some of those games, we would be in the NCAA Tournament.”
Many Tigers seemed confident that they deserved NCAA consideration after Friday’s loss, but said they would accept an invitation to the NIT if it were offered.
“Nobody wants to talk about it, especially a team that comes in with so lofty expectations,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “That’s reality, though. Nothing always comes out the way you want it to be.
“It definitely doesn’t feel right talking about the NIT.”
Still, an NIT bid presents the Tigers with an opportunity to win a national postseason tournament, which they have not accomplished under Snyder or any coach in Missouri history.
“We’ll get ready to go and fight like crazy and see if we can get to New York and win a championship,” Snyder said. “We haven’t won a championship this year, and we have a chance to do that in this tournament...
“We’re disappointed, but at the same time, we’ve fought all year, and I think we’ll continue to fight and make the most of the situation. We have a great opportunity.”