Let’s just get this out of the way: We’ve known since late December that Mizzou would not be participating in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Their loss in the SEC Tournament clinched that, but this was not a season in which the Tigers were capable of making any sort of a run.
To be fair, that might not be the worst thing in the world. Missouri has not made it out of the first round of the tournament since 2010, and hasn’t made it past the first weekend since ‘09.
However, as it is March, it is still worth taking a look at the magical times when the Tigers did play late into the month. I attempted to rank Mizzou’s best tournament appearances of all-time, and I’m sure this will not at all be controversial or debated (wink, wink).
5) 1980 Sweet 16 (#5 seed)
Star Of The Show: Even though Ricky Frazier stole the spotlight with 24 points in Round One, the MVP of this tournament run is an easy pick. Senior Mark Dressler had 63 points and 23 rebounds in the Tigers’ 3-games in this tournament, which is even more impressive considering he was a 6’6” guard, not a post player.
In this 1979-1980 season, Dressler averaged his career-high in points...but it was only 9.2 PPG. That makes the fact that he poured in 32 points on 81% shooting in the win over Notre Dame that much more impressive.
What Caused The End: In a tightly contested game, Mizzou just did not have enough left in the tank to take down a very talented LSU squad. DeWayne Scales and Rudy Macklin had their usual success, and the Bayou Bengals shot 11 more times than Missouri did. Outside of that, Missouri played them toe-to-toe, and it made for a highly-entertaining game. LSU would lose to eventual champions Louisville in the Final Four.
Why It Was Special: The NCAA Tournament looked a lot different at this time, but it was still very impressive for this team do what they did. Norm Stewart’s bunch was fresh off a Big 8 conference regular season title, and they carried that momentum into March. The Notre Dame game is legendary in Missouri basketball lore, and taking that LSU team to the wire is no small feat either. It marked the second time in the program’s history they had won two games in the Tournament (1976 made the Elite 8, but still won the same amount of games).
4) 1989 Sweet 16 (#3 Seed)
Results: 85-69 W over #14 Creighton (Round of 64), 108-89 W over #11 Texas (Round of 32), 80-83 L to #2 Syracuse (Sweet 16)
Star Of The Show: While Doug Smith can be accredited with leading this team to a win over Texas (scored 32 points in that one), Byron Irvin was the most consistent performer of this tournament. After averaging 19.2 PPG in the regular season, Irvin averaged 21.3 in three games at the tournament. The Arkansas transfer played his best in his senior season, and this was the climax.
What Caused The End: The Tigers managed to dominate Syracuse on the glass to the tune of a +18 advantage, but it was not enough. The Orange shot 13 more free throws than Mizzou did and had two players (Sherman Douglas and Billy Owens) score over 25 points. When discussing playing in the NCAA Tournament, everybody cites free throw shooting and having clutch performers as two of the biggest keys. Syracuse had it. Oh, and Mizzou shot an abysmal 18% from 3-point land. That didn’t help.
Why It Was Special: Missouri was just barely edged for the Big 8 regular season title by 4th ranked Oklahoma this season, but it was still a great year. As the 3-seed in this year’s tournament, expectations were high. Texas upsetting 6th-seeded Georgia Tech in round one allowed the Tigers to play two double-digit seeds in the opening weekend, which is certainly an easier path than most would have to take. It came down to a nail-biter against an elite Syracuse team, and Jim Boeheim’s bunch was just too much for this gutsy Tiger squad.
3) 2009 Elite 8 (#3 Seed)
Results: 78-59 W over #14 Cornell (Round of 64), 83-79 W over #6 Marquette (Round of 32), 102-91 W over #2 Memphis (Sweet 16), 75-82 L To #1 UConn
Star Of The Show: This is a really, really difficult choice between DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons, and J.T. Tiller, but I will give Lyons the nod here. The trio seemed to alternate being the leading scorer in each game, which is part of what made this team so great, However, Lyons racked up 28 boards in the four games Mizzou played, and he was just a force on the floor in his final season.
What Caused The End: It was a battle of similarly fast-paced teams in the Elite 8, but UConn got the best of the Tigers. The Huskies ended Mizzou’s magical run for 3 main reasons: 1. UConn managed to secure a +19 advantage on the glass. 2. UConn shot 32 free throws compared to Mizzou’s 12. 3. Kemba Walker was on a rampage coming off the bench, scoring 23 points. Missouri unfortunately had the be the recipient of his coming out party.
Why It Was Special: For starters, making an Elite 8 is an incredibly hard thing to do, and it was only the second time Mizzou had done so since the bracket had been expanded (2002 will be discussed later). What stands out to me the most is that Memphis win.
It has to go down as one of the best in Missouri history. The Tigers from Tennessee were a nationally-renowned program with talent all over the floor. To take that team down when Tyreke Evans and Robert Dozier (combining for 52 points and 21 rebounds) were playing at their best is a major accomplishment. UConn was a step ahead of Missouri that year, but the Tigers finished the season as one of the top teams in a loaded Big 12 and made a really solid run in March.
*As a side note, it’s also worth recognizing that, although he was not the star of that Golden Eagles team, Mizzou defeated a guy named Jimmy Butler during this run as well.*
2) 1994 Elite 8 (#1 Seed)
Results: 76-53 W over #16 Navy (Round of 64), 109-96 W over #9 Wisconsin (Round of 32), 98-88 OT W over #4 Syracuse (Sweet 16), 72-97 L to #2 Arizona (Elite 8)
Star Of The Show: Melvin Booker was on a tear in this tournament. The 6’1” guard averaged 22.1 points per game in this tournament, which included a 35-point outing against Wisconsin in round two. Remarkably, those numbers came with stellar shooting percentages as well. Booker shot 58% from the field and 45% from behind the arc, making him one of the more efficient players of the tournament.
What Caused The End: Arizona and Missouri were on a collision course with each other as the top two seeds in the West Region...it just so happened that Arizona was able to run straight through the Tigers. Mizzou had a rough night shooting from three (22%), and Arizona attempted 41 free throws compared to Missouri’s 15. Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves were dominant for the Wildcats, as they combined for 53 points and 14 rebounds in the win.
Why It Was Special: There’s a lot to unpack with this one. To start, this run has been vacated in the official record books. The NCAA ruled that Jevon Crudup, who played in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, received improper benefits from sports agents and should not have been allowed to play. Therefore, these wins do not exist in the books.
However, it does not mean it never happened. While the Arizona loss was a disappointment, this team accomplished a lot this season. They dominated the Big Eight by posting a flawless 14-0 regular season conference record, and despite being upset by Nebraska in the conference tournament, they still earned a #1 seed. This was the first time Mizzou was on the top seed-line, and they played some great games in this run, most notably the thriller against Syracuse.
1) 2002 Elite 8 (#12 Seed)
Star Of The Show: This is another really tough one, but I will give it to Rickey Paulding. He averaged 18.2 points per game in this tournament to go along with 21 total rebounds.
The guard from Detroit was made for March. He scored 17 points in two games of the 2001 NCAA Tournament in a bench role, but in 2003 he went off. Paulding had 19 in a win over Southern Illinois before going 9/15 from 3-point land in a 36-point losing effort against Marquette.
What Caused The End: You have to give credit to Oklahoma. Amidst all the chaos of this West Region, they stayed the course, and they were a sound, balanced squad.
In their game against the Tigers, Oklahoma (especially Hollis Price, who went 4/7) shot the lights out from behind the arc. A strong first half gave OU an 8-point lead going into the break, and they held firm with that for the rest of the game.
Why It Was Special: Missouri was the darling of this tournament. The West Region was blown up after the first weekend, as seeds 1, 4, 5, and 6 were all upset. This allowed UCLA and Missouri to meet up in the Sweet 16, two teams that nobody would have given a shot to make it that far. Once they took down the Bruins, the lone remaining giant of the region, Oklahoma, remained to stop the Cinderella story.
Still, this was a remarkable run. The 12-5 upset is not too uncommon, but to take down the #4 seed right after is impressive. Cincinnati losing as the #1 seed helped in creating an easier matchup in the Sweet 16.
But, what makes this most impressive and different from any other listed appearance was Missouri was in the underdog role all season. They had a respectable 24-12 record, but they just barely made the tournament after going 9-7 in conference play. Wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa allowed them to get in, and they certainly made the most of their opportunity. There isn’t a die-hard Mizzou fan that doesn’t love watching the highlights of this one.
What was your favorite NCAA Tournament run Missouri has had?