A year ago, the Missouri Tigers were coming off a Big 12 Tournament championship and carrying the expectation on their backs they were about to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
That dream died hard on the tournament's second day when Missouri suffered a stunning first-round loss to 15th-seeded Norfolk State.
A year later, the ninth-seeded Tigers return for their fifth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament at 8:20 p.m. (TBS-TV) today against eighth-seeded Colorado State in Lexington, Ky.
This time around the expectations are different for a team that stumbled throughout the second half of the season.
"They are excited about the opportunity," Missouri coach Frank Haith said.
Once a top-10 team nationally, Missouri (23-10) finished sixth in the Southeastern Conference and was bounced in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament by Mississippi. That from a team expected to compete for the conference title. Even forward Laurence Bowers said before the SEC Tournament he felt the team had underachieved.
Today, they get a chance to show the season is still left for the taking. But they will have to get past a Colorado State team making back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rams (25-8), who received an at-large bid out of the Mountain West Conference, are a team similar to the Tigers in that they beat teams on the boards. Thanks to 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson and 6-5 guard Pierce Hornung, who both average more than nine rebounds per game, the Rams have a plus-12 advantage in rebounding this season and rank fourth nationally in rebounding. Missouri is outrebounding its opponents by more than nine per game.
Colorado State is led by former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy, who guided the Cyclones to a pair of Big 12 titles during his five seasons in Ames from 1998-2003. He's in his first season at Colorado State after spending eight years at Southern Mississippi.
"They're big, they rebound," Haith said. "I know Larry (Eustachy's) teams in the past, they play a lot of motion. They're aggressive, they play hard. His teams have always played hard."
Iverson is the team's leading scorer at more than 14 points per contest. Also in double figures are senior guard Dorian Green (12.8), senior guard Wes Eikmeier (12.7) and senior forward Greg Smith (11.1).
The Rams, who start five seniors, also are battle tested. Seven of Colorado State's eight losses came to teams playing in the NCAA Tournament.
"I know a little bit about Larry (Eustachy) and I know their size," Haith said. "To me, I've always compared them to a team in our league. They play a lot of motion offense. You've got to be able to guard a lot of guys on different places on the court."
The Rams, who average 73 points per game, are hopeful to slow down Missouri point guard Phil Pressey.
"He's a terrific guard, and you've got to key on him," Eustachy told the Denver Post. "He's their best player."
Despite having been to five straight tournaments, the Tigers don't have a lot of NCAA Tournament experience. Only Bowers and Pressey have played for Missouri in NCAA Tournament games while Alex Oriakhi (Connecticut) and Tony Criswell (UAB) played in NCAA Tournament games at their previous schools. Oriakhi helped lead Connecticut to a national title in 2011.
"I think those guys have experience and talk to our players about one game at a time," Haith said. "I know that's coach-speak, but I think that's the way you've got to look at it. Playing with a sense of urgency because this is the last time you have to lace your sneakers up."
Since Missouri reached the Elite Eight in 2009, its tournament stays have been brief. The Tigers lost the next season in the second round to West Virginia, and followed that up with back-to-back first-round losses to Cincinnati and Norfolk State.
A Missouri victory means an almost certain matchup with No. 1 seed Louisville on Saturday in what would be a glorified home game less than 90 minutes from Louisville's campus. Louisville blasted Missouri by 23 points in the Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas in November.
But first the Tigers have to get past Colorado State.
"All our focus until (today) will be on CSU," Haith said.
Notes: Colorado State is making its second straight tournament appearance and 10th overall. The Rams lost in the first round last year to Murray State and have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1989. ... The all-time series is tied at 1, but the teams have not met since 1969. ... Missouri played at Rupp Arena earlier this year, a 90-83 overtime loss Feb. 23 to Kentucky. ... Missouri's other two streaks of five straight tournament appearances occurred from 1986-90 and from 1999-03.
1944 - lost to Utah 45-35; beat Pepperdine 61-46.
1976 - beat Washington 69-67; beat Texas Tech 86-75; lost to Michigan 95-88.
1978 - lost to Utah 86-79, 2OT.
1980 - beat San Jose State 61-51; beat Notre Dame 87-84; lost to LSU 68-63.
1981 - lost to Lamar 71-67.
1982 - beat Marquette 73-69; lost to Houston 79-78.
1983 - lost to Iowa 77-63.
1986 - lost to UAB 66-64.
1987 - lost to Xavier, Ohio 70-69.
1988 - lost to Rhode Island 87-80.
1989 - beat Creighton 85-69; beat Texas 108-89; lost to Syracuse 83-80.
1990 - lost to Northern Iowa 74-71.
1992 - beat West Virginia 89-78; lost to Seton Hall 88-71.
1993 - lost to Temple 75-61.
1994 - beat Navy 76-53; beat Wisconsin 109-96; beat Syracuse 98-88, OT; lost to Arizona 92-72.
1995 - beat Indiana 65-60; lost to UCLA 75-74.
1999 - lost to New Mexico 61-59.
2000 - lost to North Carolina 84-70.
2001 - beat Georgia 70-68; lost to Duke 94-81.
2002 - beat Miami 93-80; beat Ohio State 83-67; beat UCLA 82-73; lost to Oklahoma 81-75.
2003 - beat Southern Illinois 72-71; lost to Marquette 101-92, OT.
2009 - beat Cornell 78-59; beat Marquette 83-79; beat Memphis 102-91; lost to Connecticut 82-75.
2010 - beat Clemson 86-78; lost to West Virginia 68-59.
2011 - lost to Cincinnati 78-63.
2012 - lost to Norfolk State 86-84.
1954 - lost to Santa Clara 73-50; lost to Idaho State 62-57.
1963 - lost to Oklahoma City 70-67.
1965 - lost to Oklahoma City 70-68.
1966 - lost to Houston 82-76.
1969 - beat Dayton 52-50; beat Colorado 64-56; lost to Drake 84-77.
1989 - beat Florida 68-46; lost to Syracuse 65-50.
1990 - lost to Alabama 71-54.
2003 - lost to Duke 67-57.
2012 - lost to Murray State 58-41.