By the Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Selection Sunday held zero allure for Phil Pressey, who wasted no brain power fretting about where Missouri might fit in after an inconsistent season.
The Tigers’ point guard, whose scattershot late-game decision-making was a large contributing factor in several almost-wins, was just fine with the No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional and a matchup against Colorado State (25-8) on Thursday in Lexington, Ky.
“If it was up to me, I’d be in the gym shooting somewhere, then somebody would come tell me where we are,” Pressey said after the team’s selection watch gathering in Columbia. “You have to play everybody sooner or later. I just feel like the only thing you control is your game, it doesn’t matter what seed you are or who you play.”
Missouri (23-10) is in the tournament for the fifth straight season, tying the school record, and second straight time under coach Frank Haith. Unlike last March when the school was a No. 2 seed coming off a Big 12 tournament championship, there’s little buzz surrounding this year’s edition that enters having lost two of its last three.
Pressey, the preseason SEC player of the year, is the lone returning starter from last season’s 30-win team that appeared primed for a deep run but was one and done after getting upset by No. 15 seed Norfolk State.
“We shot over 50 percent from 3, they played the game of their lives,” Haith said. “You’ve got to be prepared for that when you play in a tournament setting. That’s what this tournament is about, guys living out a dream and making one shining moment.”
All season, Haith has worked on melding a roster heavy on transfers including two seniors, forward Alex Oriakhi and guard Keion Bell.
Oriakhi played on Connecticut’s 2011 national title team. He’ll offer simple advice to teammates.
“I just tell them, if you’re fortunate to get past the first one, the rest of them are very hard,” Oriakhi said. “All I tell them is take it one day at a time, take it one game at a time, one possession at a time. Just don’t think too far ahead.”
Missouri is the only school in the country with six players averaging in double figures, making depth a strength.
“None of us want our season to be over with,” said forward Laurence Bowers, a fifth-year senior who missed last season with a knee injury and the acknowledged team leader. “I really think we have a team that can go on a special run.
The Tigers are a No. 9 seed due to inconsistency and a failure to close out games, especially on the road where they were just 2-8 and dropped out of the Top 25. Squandering a 14-point second-half cushion in a two-point loss to Mississippi in the SEC tournament quarterfinals was just the latest example.
Saturday was difficult for Haith, who re-played the Ole Miss loss in his head, but as the time neared for the bracket unveiling, the excitement returned.
“I’ve never taken it for granted, I know how excited I am,” Haith said. “I don’t know if people realize how hard it is to make the NCAA tournament. There’s a lot of good teams, a lot of great tradition not making the tournament.”
Haith keeps insisting he sees signs that he has a team ready to contend.
“The sense of urgency, I thought we had it in the conference tournament,” Haith said. “Obviously, Ole Miss played great down the stretch and beat us, but I think this team has been playing great the last half of the year.
“I’m really encouraged by how we’ve been playing, and now you compete for a national championship.”