OMAHA, Nebraska -- If this is the year the Missouri Tigers finally make it to the Final Four, they can't afford to take today's opener too lightly. It seems everybody, including President Obama, is convinced this Tigers team is destined to make a long run in the tournament. There's been an awful lot of talk already about the Tigers match-up against Florida in the next round, or possibly meeting Marquette or Michigan State or even St. Louis U. in the West Regional Final. Norfolk State, the Tigers first opponent, hasn't received much attention or gotten any respect from the people who cover college hoops. That can be a dangerous thing for Mizzou. Norfolk State is a pretty solid team. They had a 25-9 record playing in the MEAC. Not exactly a powerhouse conference, but the Spartans are a team that might just be able to give the Tigers some problems.
Norfolk State has the one thing that the Tigers don't have: a dominant big man. Kyle O'Quinn is 6 foot 10 inches and the player of the year in the MEAC. He averaged 15.9 points a game and was 10th in the country in rebounding. If he can dominant in the paint and neutralize Mizzou's Ricardo Ratliffe, he could give the Tigers fits. I'm not about to predict a Norfolk State upset, but if there's anything we've learned from watching this tournament over the years, it's that anything can happen. And when bizarre things happen in the tournament, as often as not they happen to the Missouri Tigers.
Kim English says his thigh injury shouldn't be a factor in the game. He continues to get aggressive treatment on it. He says he can run now without pain, but it's still tender to the touch. I'm not sure he should have revealed that in the pre-game press briefings. He might have given the Norfolk State players a reason to be a little more physical with their play around English.
Playing in Omaha should be a good thing for the Tigers. I've seen a lot of Mizzou fans around Omaha. It's not a difficult drive to get here from St. Louis, about 7 hours. It's doubtful Norfolk State will have a large contingent here. If the Tigers beat the Spartans they'll play either Florida or Virginia, two more schools a long way from Omaha. The Century Link Center in Omaha should have an atmosphere that will make the Tigers feel very comfortable.