Missouri, Norfolk State Battle In NCAA Tournament 2012 West Region
BY R.B. FALLSTROM, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Winning the Big 12 tournament was not enough to earn a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed for Missouri.
Coach Frank Haith seemed quite satisfied with a second seed in the West.
"Whereas being No. 1 would have been a prestigious thing, it really didn't matter," the Tigers' first-year coach said in Columbia, Mo. "I wanted to prepare our guys for that. We want to be excited about it, whatever we are, one or two, about just competing for a national championship."
The Tigers (30-4) open Friday against No. 15 seed Norfolk State in Omaha, Neb. The winner faces either No. 7 Florida or No. 10 Virginia on Sunday.
Missouri was never in the conversation for a top seed, getting the last of the No. 2 seeds because of its weak non-conference schedule, ranked 308th out of 344 schools through Saturday's games. Among the particular weak links were Binghamton, ranked 344th and last overall, Kennesaw State (331), Navy (327), Southeast Missouri State (248), Niagara (218) and Northwestern State (216).
"Whoever we were going to see, wherever we were at, we were going to see them anyway later down the road," guard Michael Dixon said. "I felt like we got a good draw even though we didn't get a one seed. But we have to get prepared and do what we did all year."
On Saturday, Missouri players danced at midcourt in Kansas City celebrating their farewell Big 12 tournament in style. They did their best to hide disappointment about heading West.
"It would have been fun to be able to play close to home," guard Marcus Denmon said. "We thought that we earned or deserved it, but we just play games, and we'll be ready for Norfolk State when the chance comes."
Longtime Big 12 rival Kansas also is a No. 2 seed, but in the Midwest. The Midwest Regional final is in St. Louis.
"It would have been nice to have a little more fan support in a late-round game like that," said guard Kim English, the MVP of the Big 12 tournament. "But that's not going to make a lot of a difference. You're going to have to win games."
Saint Louis (25-7) is in the tournament for the first time since 2000 as a No. 9 seed in the West, opening against Memphis on Friday. The winner will likely play No. 1 seed Michigan State in the second round on Sunday.
Rick Majerus will be coaching his third school in the NCAA tournament, also going 10 times at Utah and once at Ball State. The Billikens finished second in the Atlantic 10 and lost to Xavier in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
"It was an outstanding season," Majerus said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "What I told our guys is it's important to remember what an honor this is. You're in the tournament and UCLA isn't. Wake Forest isn't. Pittsburgh's not in, Arizona's not in. You have a who's who of people who aren't in the tournament."
Majerus ended Saint Louis' NCAA drought one year after enduring his first losing season, marred by suspensions to two starters and by an on-court accident that sidelined the coach for a half-dozen games.
"Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong," Majerus said. "It's all behind us. I'm very proud of what we've done."
The St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference earned two bids for the first time since 2007. Regular season champion Wichita State is No. 5 in the West with an opening-round game against VCU on Thursday in Portland, while tourney champion Creighton is No. 8 in the Midwest with a first-round matchup against No. 9 Alabama on Friday in Greensboro, N.C.
Wichita State's seed is the best for the Valley since Drake also was a No. 5 in 2008.
"We knew coming down the stretch that we'd get no more or no less than two bids, so it wasn't a week full of drama," conference commissioner Doug Elgin said in a telephone interview. "It's safe to say we did return to being relevant this year."Click HERE for Printable 2012 NCAA Tournament Bracket and stay tuned for in-depth coverage of March Madness throughout the tournament.