Ninth-seeded Missouri to face Colorado State

Missouri head coach Frank Haith and the Tigers will open NCAA Tournament play Thursday in Lexington, Ky.

Missouri head coach Frank Haith and the Tigers will open NCAA Tournament play Thursday in Lexington, Ky. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — There was no fanfare, no extravagant watch party at Mizzou Arena.

Unlike 2012, when Missouri had a fighting chance for a No. 1 seed, this year’s version of the Tigers watched Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show from the comfort of the locker room.

Missouri’s fate? A No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region, where the Tigers will face No. 8 seed Colorado State on Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

“We’re extremely excited about getting back to the NCAA Tournament,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said at press conference following the release of the bracket. “We’re playing a Colorado State team we’re going learn a lot more about (Sunday night). I do know Larry Eustachy is a really good coach, I know they’re big, they’re one of the better rebounding teams in the country.

“(Colorado State forward/center) Colton Iverson was at Minnesota during my time at Miami. We played against him, and he’s a load inside. We know we have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited about being in the tournament.”

Colorado State finished the year at 25-8 overall and 11-5 in the Mountain West, good for second place in its conference.

Missouri finished 23-10 overall and 11-7 in the Southeastern Conference, good enough for a sixth-place finish. Still, the Tigers were one of just three SEC teams to make the tournament.

Florida was slotted as a No. 3 seed in the South Region and will take on No. 14 seed Northwestern State. Mississippi garnered a No. 12 seed after beating Florida in the SEC Tournament title game Sunday afternoon. The Rebels will play No. 5 seed Wisconsin in the West Region.

“That’s a little disappointing, but it makes me feel very grateful for what we did in terms of our non-league schedule and how we won and how we competed,” Haith said. “I thought Tennessee and Kentucky warranted some consideration. I don’t know close they came to getting in or not getting in, but that was a little surprising. I thought our league was good enough to get a couple more teams in.”

It didn’t take long for Missouri to hear its name called. The Tigers were the fourth team on the board out of 68, making it the fifth consecutive season Missouri has made the NCAA Tournament.

“I never take it for granted,” Haith said. “I know how excited for I am. Yesterday was a tough day because it takes me a day to get over a tough loss, but today I could not sleep. I was excited about this afternoon, this evening coming.

“It’s so hard, I don’t think people realize how hard it is to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s not that easy. There’s a lot of good teams, a lot of great tradition not making the tournament. I’m very proud of us and this program being able to get back into this tournament after last season.”

Haith said it’s the quickest he’s ever seen his team’s name called in all his years in the business, and added the coaching staff and players are set to get to work right away on scouting the Rams.

It’s an intriguing matchup, considering both Missouri and Colorado State are among the best rebounding teams in the country. The Tigers rank second with 41.4 rebounds per game, while the Rams are fourth with 40.4.

“It’s going to be a great test for us as far as rebounding,” Missouri senior forward Alex Oriakhi said. “I’ve always said that rebounding comes down to heart, so it’s going to test us.”

Iverson is a big reason for Colorado State’s prowess on the boards. After three years at Minnesota, where the 6-foot-10, 261-pound center averaged around five points and five rebounds per game, Iverson has flourished for the Rams. He leads the team in scoring at 14 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

“I just so happen to know Colton,” Missouri senior forward Laurence Bowers said. “Played AAU together. I’m just excited about the opportunity. We’re going to work hard and get prepared. We played a few AAU Tournaments together. He was a load then and he’s a load now.

“We’re going to prepare to go to war on the boards with them and get a win.”

Iverson is one of just four Rams who average double figures. Dorian Green tallies 13.3 points, Wes Eikmeier contributes 12.4 and Greg Smith has 11.1. Pierce Hornung isn’t far behind with 9.3 points, and he also grabs 9.3 rebounds per game.

Should Missouri get past Colorado State, overall No. 1 seed Louisville likely would await. In an earlier matchup this season, the Tigers fell 84-61.

A potential Sweet 16 matchup could pit Missouri against in-state foe Saint Louis, which earned a No. 4 seed in the same region.

For now, Missouri is just focused on Colorado State.

“Whenever you get a chance to extend your postseason play, you should just be blessed,” Missouri junior Phil Pressey said. “I’m excited for it. I just can’t wait to play Colorado State on Thursday.”

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