Haith: Tigers Pleased to Play in NIT
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – For the first time in six years, the Missouri Tigers are left out of the NCAA tournament.
As expected, the Tigers failed to earn a spot in the field of 68 when the brackets were announced Sunday. Instead, Missouri (22-11) earned a No. 2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament and will play Southern Conference champion Davidson (20-12) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. It is Missouri’s first NIT appearance since 2005.
“We’re excited about playing in the NIT, a tournament that has great tradition,” Missouri coach Frank Haith told the Columbia Tribune. “Obviously, our goal is to play in the NCAA Tournament every year, but we do have an opportunity to compete for a championship. There’s a lot of teams that have unlaced their shoes.”
Missouri was ranked in the top 25 early this season, but a 9-9 record in the Southeastern Conference doomed the chance for an NCAA berth. Just three SEC teams made the tournament field.
Missouri teams haven’t fared well in past NIT appearances the Tigers are 1-7 all-time, the lone victory over Murray State in the first round of the 1996 tournament. Missouri suffered first-round losses to Alabama-Birmingham in 1998, Michigan in 2004 and DePaul in 2005.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop’s program has won in Columbia before, beating the Tigers 84-81 in an upset on Nov. 19, 2004 Missouri’s first loss in the new arena. The Tigers also lost to Davidson in 2005 but beat the Wildcats in 2006.
Adding insult to injury this season: Nine of the Missouri’s former Big 12 Conference foes made the NCAA tournament seven teams still in the Big 12 plus Colorado and Nebraska.
As he sat down to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Haith wasn’t sure how to feel about the Tigers’ chances.
“I think we were right there on the bubble with a lot of teams,” he said. “When I saw Tennessee become an 11 and then Kentucky was an 8/9, I just felt like they didn’t have a lot of respect for our league. That’s what I thought.”
In fact, North Carolina State (21-13), the last team in the field, finished below Missouri in the RPI (Missouri was No. 49, the Wolfpack No. 55). Both teams were 9-9 in their leagues and Missouri beat North Carolina State on Dec. 28 in Raleigh, N.C. But North Carolina State had the nation’s 33rd toughest schedule. Missouri’s schedule ranked 68th.
Missouri also posted victories over then-No. 18 UCLA and Mid-American Conference champion Western Michigan as part of a 12-1 non-conference record that vaulted the Tigers as high as No. 21 in the national polls.
The SEC opener was an overtime loss at home to Georgia, and the Tigers never had a signature win. They needed to make a run in the SEC tournament but lost to No. 1 Florida in the quarterfinals.
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