Missouri’s players leapt to their feet with their phones out, smiling and shouting as their name and logo appeared on the jumbotron at Mizzou Arena. For the first time in five years, the Tigers are NCAA Tournament-bound.
Mizzou is the 8-seed in the West Region and will face Florida State on Friday evening in Nashville.
Eight SEC teams made the tournament overall, setting a new conference record.
“The SEC is definitely the best conference in America this year,” Kevin Puryear said. “It’s very good for the league.”
Despite losing two players to transfers, losing another to suspension, and getting just 25 minutes all year from star freshman Michael Porter Jr., Cuonzo Martin completed an incredible turnaround in his inaugural season as coach.
“I’m just really overjoyed for our players,” Martin said. “From the time I looked in [their] eyes when I took to job, to where we are now, it’s an appreciation that you get as a coach, as a parent, as a father. It’s a good a good feeling, [but] again we’ve still got work to get done.”
Under Martin’s guidance, Missouri won two more games than the past two years combined and picked up two more conference victories than they had in the previous three seasons.
“Really just a great moment for this team,” Puryear said. “We faced a lot of adversity this year and overcame it. Our names being called was definitely a testament to all the hard work that we’ve put in.”
It’ll be the first time that anyone on the active roster has played in the NCAA Tournament - but none has had a longer journey than Kassius Robertson. “I’m so excited,” he said. “I’m just really glad that we get another chance to play and I don’t have to end my career on that last game that we played.”
With a 20-12 record and a 10-8 performance in SEC play, it was all but guaranteed that the Tigers were headed to the big dance. Overshadowing the formal announcement on Sunday, though, was the arrest of Jordan Barnett on Saturday for driving while intoxicated.
Barnett has been suspended, didn’t sit with the team during Selection Sunday and won’t play on Friday. Martin said that Barnett will travel with the team and can practice. There’s a chance he could play on Sunday if the Tigers were to defeat FSU.
“I’ve known Jordan for three years now, regardless of if he’s there or not I’m still super proud to be his teammate, thats our brother,” Puryear said. “Everybody makes mistakes, and I guess all you can do from there is just learn from them.
“Still, I think this is a great moment for him,” he continued. “It’s a great moment for our team. I mean, he’s been a great contributor this whole season, left it all out there on the floor. He’s done a lot for this university and this team.”
Losing your second-leading scorer is always tough, but it hurts even more given Missouri’s lack of depth. The Tigers may have only seven available scholarship players — one of whom’s appeared in just two contests — when they take on the Seminoles.
Expect to see a lot more Porter Jr. and Brett Rau in Barnett’s absence against an FSU team whose hallmark is its stout defense.
“They make you work for baskets, they stretch you out,” Martin said. “It’s not easy around the rim, they’ll mix it up. They’ll press you, run and jump you. Zone, man. [They’re] always one of the better defensive teams in the country every year.”