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March 13, 2011The Missouri Tigers are officially headed to the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday night, the Tigers were unveiled in the West Regional of the bracket as an 11 seed, matched up with No. 6 Cincinnati in the first round. Should Missouri survive that matchup, it is most likely scheduled for a date with Connecticut, the three seed.
"There's over 300 Division One teams and you have 68 teams that have an opportunity to play in this tournament," Mike Anderson said. "We want that to continue to be the norm at Missouri. I'm excited. Our guys are excited."
But the who and where seem not to be the major questions facing this Tiger team. The opponent is nearly inconsequential. The question is how the Tigers respond to a tumultuous end to their season.
Missouri stood 22-6 just more than two weeks ago, coming off a four-game winning streak. They lost to Kansas State, then to Nebraska, then shot 28% in a loss to Kansas, their first at home all season. Following a closer-than-it-needed-to-be, less than inspiring win over Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, the Tigers fell to Texas A&M for the sixth consecutive time in a game that was not within single digits for the final 30 minutes.
After that game, Kim English made headlines with the following comments: "For the first time in my however many games," English said, "I felt we quit. We quit."
Missouri's coach and players refuted the claim. But whether English was right is not the issue. The simple fact he said it raised questions about where the Tigers stand heading into their third straight tournament.
"We all sat down and talked about the comments that were said," Laurence Bowers said. "I think people who say those type of things are remorseful for what they said, sorry. We don't let anything like that bring us down. We're still a team at the end of the day. We still care for each other, we're brothers. These last few days in practice we came back with a different mindset."
"Those comments were kind of twisted," English said. "It was fine. I didn't mean it in that way. My coaches and teammates knew 100 percent what I meant. We've had two great practices since then and we're a team that's gonna be tough to be divided. We've been together for so long, we have each other's backs 110 percent."
For the second time in a week, the Tigers met the media talking about everyone being 0-0 and making a fresh start. The last time, that fresh start ended up as sour as the end of the regular season. Missouri, finally, has reached the point of no return. After the next loss, there are no new starts, no more chances at a fresh slate.
"This is it, do or die," Bowers said. "We didn't finish the season off too strong. I think we lost four of our last five. So I think it's just a blessing to even get in the tournament. We get another opportunity."
Game times for the tournament will be set over the next few hours. The final chapter of Missouri's recent soap opera awaits.
"I think this team has a great run in it," Anderson said. "And what a time to have a great run."
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