The teams playing in the National Invitation Tournament won’t be selected until tonight, but that hasn’t stopped Missouri from preparing for it.
A first-round win in the Big 12 Conference tournament against Nebraksa on Thursday secured a record of .500 or better for the Tigers (16-16) and eligibility for the NIT.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder and his players said they felt pretty confident they would receive an invitation. A committee won’t select the field of 32 until this evening, but the Tigers started preparing immediately after their second-round loss to Oklahoma.
“We’re going to get ready now I guess,” Jason Conley, the Tigers’ co-captain, said. “We have a feeling we will be playing.”
The NIT is viewed by some as the NCAA tournament’s distant and less important cousin. Jimmy McKinney chooses not to see things that way.
“It’s a championship,” McKinney said. “You have to win a championship any possible way you can win a championship. We’re going to go out and play hard and try to win the championship.”
Snyder looks at the tournament as an opportunity to improve his players. He said it is important for his team to get as much experience as possible, especially because the players have improved dramatically lately.
Snyder said he felt the team has finally found its defensive identity.
“I think these guys over the course of the season found an identity, and that’s their identity,” Snyder said. “Particularly, defensively and being tough.”
Still, Snyder is anxious to keep pushing his team to its limits and hopefully lead them to a title.
“I think every chance we get to go out and play again and hopefully try to reinforce that, it’s an important thing,” Snyder said. “Not just for this year’s group but for our guys down the road.”
Junior center Kevin Young agreed with his coach. He said he and his teammates, if selected, will use the tournament to continue to improve. He was also confident the Tigers could end the season with a championship.
“We’re going to keep practicing and getting better,” Young said. “That’s all we have to do. Keep getting better.”
If the Tigers are selected, their first-round game will be played at Mizzou Arena. Tiger fans can purchase tickets for the game as early as 8 a.m. on Monday morning. Missouri doesn’t know who it will play in the opening round, but Conley said it doesn’t matter.
“We will just do whatever it takes,” Conley said. “We have no idea who we’re going to play yet, but it’s not over.”
Conley’s No. 1 goal when he transferred from Virginia Military Institute to Missouri was to make the NCAA tournament. Since he is a senior, that goal will never be realized, but he chooses to look on the bright side of things.
“There are two teams in the country that can finish with a win, and we could be one of them,” Conley said.