KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The last time Missouri won an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game, coach Cuonzo Martin was leading Missouri State to a championship 11 years ago in the CIT.
That was three coaching stops ago for Martin, who led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament — and a first-round loss against Florida State — three years ago during his first season in Columbia.
Overall, Mizzou has lost five consecutive NCAA tourney games, dating back to a first-round upset of Clemson on March 19, 2010.
Senior guard Dru Smith was a 12-year-old in Evansville, Indiana, at that time, but he’s aware of the Tigers’ long drought in NCAA tourney games.
It gives gives No. 9 seed Mizzou an underdog mentality entering Saturday’s 6:25 p.m. tipoff against No. 8 seed Oklahoma in the tourney’s first round.
“Just the fact that none of us have been here before — obviously, JT (senior center Jeremiah Tilmon) and Mitch (senior forward Mitchell Smith) were here earlier, but other than that this is all of our first trip to the tournament,” Dru Smith said. “Just having that chip on your shoulder and playing with it is definitely something that we kind of attach to it.”
Winning against the Sooners is all that matters.
“That’s what you play the game for — to win the game,” said Martin, who is 3-3 in three previous NCAA tourney appearance with Tennessee, California and Mizzou.
This year’s journey truly has been a business trip for the Tigers, especially with the tight COVID-19 protocols in place.
The team visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but has otherwise been sequestered in the team hotel.
“Basically, everything is within the hotel, and it’s not bad at all,” Martin said.
The team was quarantined for “a day and half” after arriving, giving the Tigers “a lot of time to get stuff done.”
“Now, if you ask the players, it might be something different,” Martin said.
Video games have been the salvation for Mizzou’s players.
“A lot of us brought our XBoxes and PlayStations, so we’ve been doing that in our off time — just kind of connecting that way, being able to talk to everybody through there,” Dru Smith said.
MU’s recent NCAA tourney history hasn’t been great.
After the 2010 win against Clemson, 10th-seeded Tigers would lose two days later to second-seeded West Virginia, kicking off more than a decade without an NCAA tourney win.
Former coach Mike Anderson led MU back to the tourney for an opening-game loss to Cincinnati during the 2010-11 season before bolting for Arkansas.
Frank Haith then took over, leading the Tigers to consecutive NCAA appearances.
The first ended with a shocking upset as a 30-win, Big 12 Tournament champion squad lost to No. 15 seed Norfolk State.
MU lost as a No. 9 seed in the 2013 tourney against Colorado State and Haith left a year later for Tulsa.
Then came the loss in Martin’s first season with the Tigers.
Martin said Dru Smith’s “calmness” and “professional approach” should help Mizzou against Oklahoma, which is led by senior guard Austin Reaves.
Reaves leads the Sooners in scoring, rebounding and assists, averaging 17.7 points with 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists,
He’s “as good as any guard in the SEC,” according to Martin — a scorer who is adept at drawing fouls and getting into the lane.
Dru Smith, one of the top defensive guards in the SEC, will try to badger him, but Martin also wants to make him guard at the defensive end.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Dru Smith said. “He’s a great basketball player, and I think he just understands how to play the game. ... He scores at all three levels, so he’ll definitely be a good matchup.”
Missouri's job got a bit easier Wednesday when Oklahoma announced that second-leading scorer De'Vion Harmon, a sophomore guard, would miss Saturday's game after testing positive for COVID-19.
Harmon averages 12.9 points along with 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Sooners.
TALE OF THE TAPE
(9) Missouri vs. (8) Oklahoma
When: 6:25 p.m., Saturday, March 20
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium Equality
() indicates national rank
|8-8 (7th, SEC)||Conference record||9-8 (t-6th, Big 12)|
|73.6 (114)||PPG||74.8 (87)|
|71.9 (223)||Opp. PPG||69.2 (143)|
|.449 (126)||FG%||.442 (175)|
|.431 (166)||Opp. FG%||.421 (109)|
|.320 (261)||3P FG%||.338 (173)|
|.328 (131)||Opp. 3P FG%||.354 (273)|
|13.2 (174)||Assists||13.4 (152)|