For the third consecutive season, the Tigers are joining the March Madness fray.
Missouri was handed the No. 11 seed in the West Region in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Selection Sunday results pit the Tigers against the No. 6 seed Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round.
Tipoff is set for 8:50 p.m. Thursday inside the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
The 25-8 Bearcats underachieve in the scoring, but they make up for it with physicality and defense in a very competitive Big East conference. Cincinnati finished 11-7 in conference with impressive wins over Louisville and Georgetown.
Junior forward Yancy Gates leads the team on both ends of the floor, averaging team-highs of 11.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Junior guard Dion Dixon joins Gates with 11.6 points per game while lead distributor sophomore guard Cashmere Wright leads the team with 3.8 assists per game.
Cincinnati also lost in the second round of its conference tournament as it was blown out by Notre Dame. The Bearcats are 25-8 on the year and went 11-7 in Big East play.
The 23-10 Tigers have lost four of their last five games after dropping three straight to end the regular season and losing to Texas A&M in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament.
In that stretch, Missouri lost to Nebraska and was nearly upset by Texas Tech, two teams that failed to make the tournament. Coach Mike Anderson knows those kind of performances can’t happen in the Big Dance.
“We have to be consistent,” Anderson said. “We have to be a team that doesn’t give up easy opportunities even though we extend our defense. We need to be tougher at the rim. But I think this team has a great run in them.”
The last great run by a Missouri team came two years ago in 2009 when the Tigers earned an Elite 8 berth. That team featured current Memphis Grizzlies forward DeMarre Carroll and NBA Development League standout forward Leo Lyons.
Six of the current Tiger upperclassmen were around that year as well as in 2010, making NCAA Tournament play business as usual. But for the Missouri freshmen and transfer students, five newcomers total, this is all new.
“We have older guys who have played in the tournament,” junior forward Laurence Bowers said. “We just have to put those younger guys and newcomers on our back and show them the way.”
Junior guard Kim English is also one of those returners, and the Baltimore native could not be happier with the sight of Missouri’s first round matchup. The nation’s capital is not far from his hometown, and his cheers were the loudest when their selection was announced.
“I’m excited to be going back towards home,” English said. “Just to be playing in the tournament, something I used to sneak out of class for and watch in the janitor’s closet during school. I’m excited to be playing but especially close to home.”
If Missouri can get past Cincinnati in the first round, they will meet the winner of No. 3 Connecticut and No. 14 Bucknell in the second round. The West Region features a No. 1 Duke and No. 2 San Diego State as well.
Anderson said he is not satisfied with just an invitation to the tournament.
“We don’t just want to go to the dance,” Anderson said. “We want to dance. We’ll be playing against an outstanding Cincinnati team that has really played well in Big East play. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”