Missouri has come full circle.
After beginning its regular season with a reunion in Michigan, it will have another to begin its postseason.
The opener served as a homecoming for seniors Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding, and Missouri coach Quin Snyder will have a reunion of sorts tonight when he coaches against longtime friend Tommy Amaker.
The Tigers (16-13) travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to face Michigan in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at 8 tonight.
“You don’t look forward to having to play your friend,” Snyder said. “That’s my personal feeling. I went through that having to play Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) in the NCAA Tournament a couple years ago.”
Snyder played with Amaker at Duke from 1985-87.
“It’s a hard game,” Snyder said. “Either his season is over, or ours is over. I’d like to see us both win. He’s one of my closest friends in this business or otherwise. That’s just part of our profession that you have to deal with.”
From 1985-87, the Blue Devils had a 61-12 record. Snyder said he talks to Amaker more than any other Blue Devil, not including Krzyzewski.
Snyder faced Krzyzewski, his former coach, when the Tigers played Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2001. The Blue Devils won 94-81.
Snyder said he didn’t enjoy playing against his former coach and probably won’t enjoy this TV-driven game.
“It’s not something that I saw coming,” Snyder said. “You try to make the most of the situation. We’re excited to be in the tournament; it’s just kind of tough to be playing your buddy.”
Despite his displeasure with the matchup,Snyder said his players, especially Johnson and Paulding, would prefer to continue their season.
“I think you’re always thinking about ways to get your team ready to play,” Snyder said. “But I think they’re looking forward to an opportunity to keep playing. I don’t think any of these guys want their season to end in any way.
“If anything, once you get over the disappointment that (Sunday) brought relative to the NCAA Tournament, I think they’ll be determined to fight and to play.”
Although disappointment accompanied the absence from the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers needed a furious rally to earn consideration for a berth. That rally appeared to have taken its toll in the final four-game stretch, in which the Tigers lost three.
“We had to expend a fair amount of energy, and particularly with less guys,” Snyder said. “I think our team right now is wanting to play and win. We have gotten a lot better in the last month.
“You know when you’re team is excited to play, and we’ve been feeling like we’re getting better and playing better. We lost a couple here recently, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. They’ll be anxious to get that taste out of their mouths.”
Kansas rudely ended the Tigers’ regular season in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament. The Jayhawks wrapped up a three-game season sweep against the Tigers 94-69 on Friday night in Dallas.
The Tigers began their season in Michigan when they faced Oakland (Mich.) University on Nov. 29, in a game scheduled about 30 miles from the hometown of Johnson and Paulding. The trip to Detroit proved to be a happy homecoming because the Tigers held off a rally and won 90-85.
Paulding and sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney had 21 points apiece, and Johnson scored 19 and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“I’m sure they’re looking forward to it,” Snyder said. “Knowing them, I’m certain they’re looking forward to the chance at playing at home.”
Aside from the reunions, the matchup features somewhat of a preview for Tigers’ fans. Michigan guard Daniel Horton is the brother of Missouri recruit Jason Horton, who will join the team next season.
Daniel Horton, a sophomore at Michigan, averages 11.8 points on a perimeter-based team. Lester Abram leads the Wolverines at 13.4 points per game.