Tuesday, May 24

The NCAA tournament draw preview may have positioned Missouri for the tough pick on Fall Sunday

There are some college basketball records that are prominent and sacred, like Pete Maravich’s career scoring average of 44.2 points or UCLA’s 88-game winning streak.

There are some that are dark and disgusting, such as Oklahoma’s “achievement” of falling further into the final group of the NCAA Tournament after being initially included in the selection committee’s official February group preview.

There have been 64 teams submitted in the four years the committee has been revealing the top four seeds in each region one month before Selection Sunday. Of those, Oklahoma’s fall from a No. 4 seed to a No. 10 in 2018 marks the biggest decline for an included team.

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Missouri (13-6) will try to avoid flirting with that ugly distinction when it plays the first of its four remaining scheduled games at South Carolina (5-10) on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers will then have bubble contender Ole Miss, Texas A&M struggling, and probably the overall pick Florida left to play.

Mizzou was the last of the 16 teams featured in the selection committee’s draw preview, and that was the best moment of the last two weeks. There have been three consecutive losses, dropping the team’s NET ranking to 43rd. In the BracketMatrix.com consensus of more than 100 bracket projections, just six days after the committee declared the Tigers to be in the top four favorites, they were up to No. 6.

The bracket preview might seem like a public relations exercise for the NCAA, an opportunity to promote its biggest annual event, and one of the masterpieces of the CBS sports calendar. However, its last four issues show that what was said in February holds up quite well on Selection Sunday.

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Using the final Bracket Matrix composite to replace the 2020 bracket because the tournament was canceled, here’s how the teams that were previewed fared when the March Madness field was featured:

– 14 teams advanced from their projected seed, none more prominent than Duke’s 2017 advance from No. 4 to No. 2.
– 23 teams are down, with West Virginia declining from a No. 2 seed in 2020 to a No. 6 seed, the only one close to Oklahoma’s fall.
– 27 teams finished in the same seeded position.
– 12 of 16 teams had their No. 1 seeds.
– 54 of the 64 teams included in the previews remained the top four seeds in the final groups.

Despite considerable achievements, Missouri must begin to repair recent damage.

The Tigers are one of nine teams with at least five wins in Quad-1. They are Mizzou, Michigan, Iowa and West Virginia with five, Baylor, Illinois and Alabama with six, Gonzaga with seven and Ohio State with nine.

That would seem to ensure a prominent position in the Tigers’ draw. It is not like this. Because they’ve also managed to drop games against Georgia, Mississippi State, Auburn and Ole Miss, of which only the Rebels have a remote chance of a general NCAA offering. There are many games to lose against teams that do not participate in tournaments.

The other eight teams that have at least five Quad-1 wins have only one loss, combined, against teams outside of the Bracket Matrix consensus, which is Maryland’s win over Illinois. And Terps are included in 42 percent of those support projections, so it’s not like they’re easy.

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That alone makes planting the Tigers a challenge. And if they continue with their current trend, they will have problems much bigger than the line of seeds that occupy the Sunday of selection.

However, even though one can accurately say that the Tigers are on a losing streak, it might not be correct to say that their recent performances are trending. They played Arkansas and Georgia without center Jeremiah Tillmon, who is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. His size and strength serve as the basis for the team’s offense and defense. He missed the last two games due to a death in his family, but will be playing against the Gamecocks again.

It’s a game they need to win, not so much to stay in the tournament, which Missouri has reached only once in the past seven seasons, but to stay at the top of the group.

The Tigers have defeated Illinois, Tennessee and Alabama, all of which were listed as the top four favorites by the committee. A team with that on their résumé should think of a happier National Team Sunday than recent performances predict.


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