COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- After a strong start, Missouri stumbled to the finish line of its Big 12 season, losing four of its last five games including a second-round exit in the conference tournament.
The NCAA selection committee was not impressed, but still included the Tigers in the 68-team field.
Missouri (23-10) fell to a No. 11 seed after spending the majority of the season in the Top 25 and will play No. 6 seed Cincinnati in the second-round game Thursday in Washington. It's the Tigers' third straight NCAA appearance.
Missouri was nearly flawless at home this season with a mark of 17-1, losing only in the final regular-season game against Big 12 champion Kansas. On the road, the Tigers won only one conference game -- at Iowa State on Feb. 19.
"We didn't have the greatest season, or even the season I or anyone expected," junior forward Laurence Bowers said. "I thought we did enough to get in and now we have another opportunity."
During the recent stretch of losses, the Tigers have given up an average of nearly 76 points per game. They have placed a heavy emphasis on defense entering Thursday's matchup with the Bearcats, who made the tournament for the first time since 1999.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us. I know they have some size," coach Mike Anderson said. "They played in the Big East and they're used to physical play and can get up and down the floor."
Missouri is only two seasons removed from an Elite Eight run that ended with a four-point loss to Connecticut, a team they could possibly see if the Tigers get past Cincinnati. Three current starters played on that 2009 team and hope to rely on that experience.
Anderson remains optimistic in his team's chances despite shooting just 33 percent from the floor in an 86-71 loss to Texas A&M on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo.
"I think this team has a great run in it," Anderson said. "If we can get the tempo that we like and survive that first game against a team that's had time to prepare then that favors us."
Rumors are also swirling around Anderson after Arkansas announced the firing of coach John Pelfrey earlier Sunday. Anderson won a national championship with the Razorbacks in 1994 as an assistant under Nolan Richardson.
"It seems like we go down this road every season," Anderson said of the Arkansas speculation. "I'm a Missouri Tiger and this just confirms to me that we have a tremendous program here."
On the flip side, the Missouri State Bears (25-8) were left out of the bracket despite winning the regular-season title in the Missouri Valley Conference. They finished the season with a strong RPI of 42 but were 0-1 against teams in the top 50.
The Bears lost to Indiana State 60-56 in the Missouri Valley tournament championship game last Sunday and did not receive an at-large bid. Missouri State did get a National Invitation Tournament bid and will host Murray State on Tuesday night in the opener of the 32-team tournament.
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