For all the insinuations about Cuonzo Martin coming “home” with his hire as Missouri head coach, “home” doesn’t have any direct ties to the state of Missouri itself. Yes, he’s from the St. Louis area, but Mizzou didn’t factor into his recruitment heavily. His list of finalists ended up being Illinois, UConn, Purdue, and San Francisco. Mizzou tried to sneak in the door late in the game, but it didn’t work. Long thought to be a UI or UConn lean, he ended up choosing Gene Keady’s Boilermakers.
Martin’s path only directly crossed with Missouri’s once, then, at least until he became a coach.
Basketball’s powers that be — in this case, ESPN, Raycom, and the Athletic Directors Association — had one hell of an idea early in January 1994: Let’s take the Elite 8 from this coming tournament and pit them against each other in a series of battles next winter.
TAKE THE eight teams from the NCAA regional championships the previous year, put them on prime-time TV the following November, and you've got yourself quite an early-season tournament.
That's what ESPN, Raycom and the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association thought, so they did it. They jointly announced what they're calling ''The Great Eight'' in a conference call Wednesday.
Each of the Final 8 teams from this year's NCAA tournament will be invited to play one game each, with pairings by lot, and they will be played as doubleheaders on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 29-30. ESPN will televise.
You want to generate some early excitement? That’s a pretty good way to do it. It not only guarantees a lot of likely elite-vs.-elite pairings but offers casual fans a way to re-engage with the sport in a “picking up where we left off” kind of way. Granted, turnover means some of these teams won’t be as good, but it’s still a great idea and a cool event.
The 1994 Elite Eight featured some heavy hitters, too.
- West: No. 2 Arizona def. No. 1 Missouri
- Midwest: No. 1 Arkansas def. No. 3 Michigan
- Southeast: No. 2 Duke def. No. 1 Purdue
- East: No. 3 Florida def. No. 9 Boston College
Three of four regions featured a No. 1 seed, and all four featured either a 2 or 3.
Buy-in was nearly complete, too. Arkansas didn’t participate, replaced instead by a UConn team that had lost in the Sweet 16 to Florida. But the other seven bought in. The Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit was chosen as the venue.
On November 29, Florida destroyed a Boston College team that had to replace four starters, and UConn floored No. 6 Duke, 90-86.
On November 30, No. 9 Arizona hammered Michigan. Two rebuilding teams faced off in the other game.
The 1993-94 Purdue team went 29-5, but the Boilermakers were powered by an otherworldly scorer by the name of Glenn Robinson. The Big Dog averaged an absurd 30.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game; Purdue began the season 14-0, and after a bit of a rough patch early in Big Ten play, they finished the regular season winning nine of 10 and cruised to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national runner-up Duke.
The 1994 NCAA Tournament was seen as maybe Norm Stewart’s best chance to get to a Final Four; it was the same for Keady. And both came up a round short. This hurt because falling short always hurts, but it also felt like a lost moment. Mizzou had to replace seven seniors from its Big 8 Championship squad, while Purdue lost the Big Dog. Martin had averaged 16 points per game in 1994, too, but would the junior be able to handle a larger load?
When the teams met in Auburn Hills, Purdue was 3-0 with a narrow neutral-court win over Iowa State, and Mizzou had played just one game, a 34-point beatdown of Chicago State. Chicago State was horrendous, but the performance was intriguing: Derek Grimm had scored 27 points and grabbed 11 boards, while Paul O’Liney pitched in 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting (5-for-9 on 3s) and four other Tigers — Jason Sutherland, Julian Winfield, and freshmen Kendrick Moore and Troy Hudson — scored in double digits.
Mizzou had dominated, and star recruits/twin towers Sammie and Simeon Haley hadn’t even played. Might this team’s ceiling be higher than everybody thought?
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Its flow had ebbed, and the University of Missouri basketball team was on the brink of botching a game that had been firmly in its clasp.
With 50.5 seconds left Wednesday night, a flimsy 63-62 lead over Purdue seemed ready for shredding when MU was stuck inbounding the ball with one second left on the shot clock.
Enter sophomore guard Jason Sutherland, part Tasmanian devil, part Energizer Bunny, part agitator — and all gumption.
“I was just about getting ready to call a timeout,” inbounder Julian Winfield said, “and Jason let out a bellow at me to let me know he was open.”
Sutherland whirled free on the baseline, lunged to grasp Winfield’s delicate lob and swished it in the basket to make it 65-62. Without pausing to celebrate, he then ... scurried above the top of the key ... swiped Purdue’s inbound pass ... lured a foul ... and converted two free throws to restore order. Thus recharged, Mizzou (2-0) prevailed 69-66 over the Boilermakers (3-1) in a Great Eight festival game at The Palace.
Mizzou had shown remarkable balance early, hitting five first-half 3-pointers while also dominating Purdue on the glass. Sammie Haley hit back-to-back baskets to cap a 19-5 run. Mizzou led by nine at halftime and still held an eight-point advantage midway through the second half but stalled out on offense.
Purdue charged back and took a 59-58 lead on two Martin free throws; Mizzou went ahead on an O’Liney 3-pointer, but Boilermaker Porter Roberts responded in kind. After missing a series of free throws earlier in the second half, O’Liney made two with 1:46 left, and thanks to Sutherland, Mizzou never trailed again.
O’Liney finished with 24 points on 7-for-16 shooting from the floor, and Sutherland scored 14 on 4-for-6. The Haleys combined for 12 points and seven rebounds in their debuts, and future Mizzou and SLU assistant Corey Tate grabbed seven rebounds.
The Tigers were plus-11 on the glass. They also held Martin in check. He scored just nine points on 2-for-8 shooting. It was one of his least effective moments in a season that saw him averaged 18.2 points per game.
Purdue would go on to lose two more games within the week — upsets at James Madison and Western Michigan. (Yes, “at.” They would later play at Chattanooga, too. Times have changed, I guess.) But after the 3-3 start, they would surge, winning 22 of their next 25. They won their final eight games of the regular season to clinch the Big Ten before running out of gas. A 3-seed in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, they barely survived Wisconsin-Green Bay, 49-48, and fell to Lorenzen Wright and Memphis in the Round of 32.
Mizzou almost did something smart: The Tigers ran out of gas a few weeks earlier. They reached 18-3 overall and ninth in the country before losing four straight games late in the year. They lost by 18 to Iowa State in the first round of the Big 8 Tournament and fell from “potential 2- or 3-seed” to the 8-9 game. But then they found their legs again.
In the first round of the NCAAs in Boise, Norm Stewart and Bob Knight took each other on for the very first time, and thanks to 22 points from O’Liney and a pair of key offensive rebounds from Sammie Haley, Mizzou won, 65-60, in a game known mostly for Knight’s post-game press conference.
Missouri then took on No. 1 seed UCLA and played one of its best games of the season. The Tigers led the Bruins by eight at halftime, and while UCLA came back, Mizzou got the ball late, down 1, and took advantage. After running the clock down, Moore drove and found Winfield for a tough, short runner.
This was one of the great plays, one of the great moments of Norm Stewart’s career.
I, uh, don’t remember for sure what happened after that. I assume Mizzou won? I mean, how much damage could UCLA expect to do having to go the length of the court in 4.8 seconds?