COLUMBIA — When thinking about a Mike Anderson-coached basketball team playing in a tournament, one game almost inevitably springs to mind: University of Alabama-Birmingham’s win over No. 1 seed Kentucky in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament.
That memorable upset was the shining mark that had Missouri fans dreaming of refound tournament success when Anderson came to Columbia last year.
After beating Fordham on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic, things might finally be getting on track.
“It feels good,” senior Marshall Brown said. “I mean we took care of home like we were supposed to.”
Tournament success hadn’t been abundant for Missouri prior to Brown’s arrival in 2004-05.
After making the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003, the Tigers fizzled out in the first round of the NIT in the next two seasons, failed to make any postseason tournament the next year, and haven’t advanced past the second round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
Possibly the worst of all, in the first game of 2005-06, Quin Snyder’s last season as coach, the Tigers were upset at home by Sam Houston State in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-off tournament.
The Tigers won the John Thompson Foundation Classic in Anderson’s first year at the helm, a four-team round-robin tournament at Mizzou Arena, but were upset by 11-seed Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. They were not invited to any of the postseason tournaments.
Now, after convincing wins over Central Michigan and Fordham in the first rounds of the CBE Classic, the Tigers play No. 12 Michigan State in the semifinals Monday in Kansas City.
“When you go in that tournament setting it is a different mindset,” Anderson said last week. “We didn’t finish too well in the last tournament that we played...so hopefully our guys can come out with a lot more energy, a lot more understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
They did. One year under in Anderson’s up-tempo, high-pressure system has Missouri closer to the type of basketball that UAB played in its upset of Kentucky. Anderson attributes much of that to Missouri’s depth. Each of Missouri’s 11 scholarship players got court time in the first two games, with nine seeing double-digit minutes.
“When their starting five came back in in the first half, you could just see their energy level come up to another level,” Anderson said of Fordham. “We were like we are everyday.”
Brown is a big part of that depth. The veteran forward has 62 career starts but has been a spark plug coming off the bench so far this season.
“I definitely feel like it definitely wears on the other team,” Brown said. “We are bringing in multiple guys at a time. Most teams are only going to play seven or eight people. So, that being said, you play two or three games back-to-back, it definitely wears on you.”
Brown, one of four players left from the team that was upset by Sam Houston State, said there is a new attitude under Anderson as well.
“I just think we are a lot more focused, that is probably the biggest thing for us,” Brown said. “A lot more focused and we are coming out with a lot of energy and really taking a lot of pride in not letting people score.”
The Tigers are guaranteed two more games in the CBE Classic, facing Michigan State on Monday and either either No. 2 UCLA or Maryland in the championship or third-place game on Tuesday. Anderson is hoping the competitive early season tournament can help Missouri regain that swagger come postseason tournament time.
“I don’t mind playing people,” Anderson said. “That’s my adage. I’ve always said that I don’t mind playing people because I know it’s going to get you ready in a lot of ways.”