So, Missouri Tigers you just won the Big XII Tournament for the first time in your school's history (since Norm Stewart coached the Tigers to the Big Eight Tournament Championship in 1993). What are you going to do next? Apparently you're headed for lovely Boise, Idaho for a date with the Ivy League Champions, the Big Red of Cornell.
This has been a year that Missouri fans will remember for quite some time considering many Big XII coaches picked the Tigers to finish in the bottom half of the conference. Mizzou won 28 games this year, the most since the 1994 season where the Tigers made it to the Elite Eight.
This year might possibly be the hardest to sift through all of the pretty-good teams and pick just one winner out of a 65-team field. So with that in mind let's break down every matchup I feel the Missouri Tigers will face in the upcoming tourney.
First Round Cornell (21-9, 11-3): This is the only matchup that I know for a fact will happen and my subsequent matchups beyond this are purely speculation. Cornell comes into the tourney with back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 110 years.
While they did lose only three games during conference play in the Ivy League, they happen to play in a league that doesn't give them very many tests throughout the season. They were 0-2 against Top-25 teams during the year and lost to three other current tourney teams (@ No. 9 seed Siena by 18, @ No. 10 seed Minnesota by 17, and @ No. 3 seed Syracuse by 10).
While Cornell has the capability of shooting a high percentage from beyond the arc, (they averaged 41.5 percent for the year) I think Missouri's pressure defense will force them into a faster paced game than they are used to and will struggle mightily. Prediction: Missouri +17
Second Round Utah State (30-4, 14-2): I see No. 11 seed Utah State knocking off No. 6 seed Marquette in the first round and thus leading to this matchup. The Aggies from Utah State are a very good and underrated team.
They are a deep team, having four players average over 9 points per game as well as a team that limits mistakes and plays sound basketball at both ends of the court, which is a big reason why the Aggies are in the top five in the country in assist-to-turnover rate. Their defense holds opponents to an average of 62 points per game, which is four points better than the Tigers defense.
Don't take notice of the No. 11 seed that the Aggies bring into the tournament as they have played against top teams for most of the year in an above-average Western Athletic Conference. They were 1-0 against Top-25 teams and split two games against current tourney teams (won vs. No. 5 seed Utah by 2 and lost vs. No. 8 seed BYU by 5).
This game could turn into a defensive struggle and if Missouri plays bad fundamental basketball, like they have at times this year (e.g. at Kansas and vs. Illinois in St. Louis) then the Aggies could earn another upset win and move onto the Sweet Sixteen.
While I do think Missouri will win this game, I have a feeling the Aggies will keep it close until Missouri pulls away at the end. Prediction: Missouri +10
Sweet Sixteen Memphis (31-3, 16-0): I see No. 2 seed Memphis beating No. 15 seed California State Northridge and then defeating No. 10 Maryland to reach the matchup in the Sweet Sixteen vs. Missouri. Memphis played very well all year long and some would argue deserved the last No. 1 seed over Connecticut.
This matchup I have gone back and forth on who I think will win and I probably will continue to do so up until game time. Memphis has DOMINATED the Conference-USA winning 61 straight against C-USA opponents. Memphis has also accumulated 30 wins in each of the past four seasons, the first team to do so in NCAA Division I history. However, Missouri plays in a better league and has played against better teams.
It's important to remember that just like Cornell feasted on sub-par Ivy League teams Memphis has done the same against teams from C-USA. Memphis did schedule several out of conference teams but didn't take advantage of their opportunities like they could have. They were 1-2 against Top-25 teams during the year and played against several current tourney teams and didn't show anything promising (lost to No. 3 seed Syracuse by 7, won @ No. 9 seed Tennessee by 2, and won @ No. 4 seed Gonzaga by 18).
Both teams are ferocious on the defensive end of the floor (Memphis holds their opponents to a staggering average of 57 points per game) and just like Missouri's game against Utah State, this one could very well turn into a low-scoring, highly physical defensive game.
Because I think Memphis is a tad overrated (the reason being they haven't shown they can beat top-notch teams) I see Mizzou coming away with a win to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since the 1993-1994 season. Prediction: Missouri +5
Elite Eight Connecticut (27-4, 15-3): I see the No. 1 seed in the West region Connecticut reaching the Elite Eight by defeating No. 16 University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, No. 9 Texas A&M, and No. 4 Washington. Connecticut has been the cream of the NCAA Division I basketball crop for years now and this year has been no different.
UConn held the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll for four different weeks during the season and deservedly so. The Huskies played in what many would argue is the best conference in all of D-I basketball, the Big East. Just look at the No. 1 seeds in the tournament and that will tell you all you need to know about which conference is the best (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut are all from the Big East conference).
When Junior guard Jerome Dyson went down in early February with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee against Syracuse there were some people that felt UConn's chances of winning took a huge hit. While this was a big loss, the Huskies have played well since and earned a No. 1 seed.
Playing in the Big East lent UConn many chances to play the best teams in the country and they went 4-3 against Top-25 teams (lost twice to No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, won @ No. 1 seed Louisville by 17, and won vs. No. 3 seed Villanova by 6), which happens to be the same record Missouri has against Top-25 teams.
UConn is a very dangerous team that has played against good teams all year and that kind of experience is a huge plus when it comes to trying to navigate through the tournament.
As much as I don't want to say it (being a Mizzou student and all), I think Connecticut will beat Missouri to reach the Final Four in Detroit. I feel that UConn head coach Jim Calhoun will find a way to beat Missouri's full-court press and exploit the big body of 7-3 Junior Center Hasheem Thabeet.
Missouri doesn't have anyone that can legitimately match up well against Thabeet and that will inevitably be their downfall, unless they can get him into early foul trouble. Prediction: Connecticut +8
NOTE: Brandon Schatsiek is a journalism student at the University of Missouri-Columbia