With a loss to Kansas on Saturday, one season ended for Missouri men's basketball. But another season with higher stakes begins Wednesday.
Missouri and the rest of the Big 12 will convene Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and take part in the Big 12 Tournament. After winning the tournament last year, the Tigers are ready to defend their crown.
"You've got to think about one game at a time," sophomore guard Kim English said. "Because if you catch yourself looking past it, you're going to slip up and get beat."
In the single-elimination tournament, Missouri is seeded fifth. On Wednesday, it will open the tournament against 12th-seeded Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will be a familiar foe to the Tigers; Missouri has already beaten them twice this season.
But the Tigers know tournament time is a whole new season.
"Every game is so different and so unique, and I think tournament play even adds a little bit more flavor," coach Mike Anderson said. "It's going to be a great challenge for us. The games where we've played them have been tough, but our guys know that Nebraska is the focal point."
Although Missouri is one of the youngest teams in the conference, the team has plenty of postseason experience. Ten players were members of last season's Big 12 Tournament and Elite Eight team.
The Tigers are trying to downplay any pressure about living up to the expectations set a year ago.
"We're the defending champs, and I think we know that," Anderson said. "So it's an opportunity for us to play in a tournament that we had some success in last year and maybe utilize that experience.”
Still, the title of Big 12 champions is one the team is using as motivation.
"We want to go in there and use our confidence, use (last year) as motivation and try to go in there and play our best," senior guard J.T. Tiller said.
As the Tigers get ready to take the stage, the lights will shine brightest on their frontcourt. Because junior forward Justin Safford went down with a tear in his ACL, senior forward Keith Ramsey has been called upon to log big minutes. In the four games since the injury, Ramsey has averaged more than 35 minutes.
Sophomore center Steve Moore has seen a jump in his minutes as well, and Anderson admitted Ramsey cannot do it all and will need some help from some of the younger players.
"I think we've got to get some more guys involved," Anderson said. "Steve will have to be out on the floor a little bit more, and (freshman forward John) Underwood will get some playing time, hopefully, in this tournament. The last couple of games, Keith has been playing too many minutes, and that has an effect on him going down the stretch."
Senior guard Zaire Taylor passed along a challenge to the younger players Anderson has issued throughout the season.
"Coach said it coming into the season, and he's said it numerous times," Taylor said. "He said there's going to be a time when somebody is going to need to step up. He didn't say there might be or there could be. He said somebody is going to need to step up big that isn't used to playing a lot of minutes."