When asked what he knew about his team's first round opponent, Cornell, in the NCAA Tournament, freshman Kimmie English smiled and replied "We'll probably be working for them in four years."
That's about all Missouri knew when they found out they would be headed to lovely Boise, Idaho for the first two rounds of the Tourney. But Cornell is a good team in their own right. Although they've never won a Tournament game, the Big Red won the Ivy League crown this year, and have two-time player of the year in guard Louis Dale.
The Tigers and Big Red have huge differences in their style of play. Cornell, like most Ivy League squads, slow down the tempo of the game and control the ball well. Missouri, as everybody knows by now, likes to push the ball and run the floor.
The ONLY way that Cornell can win this ball game is by limiting turnovers and shooting the lights out of the ball, something unlikely to happen with Missouri's tenacious guards and on-the-ball defense. Dale is the primary ballhandler, but his assist-to-turnover ratio is poor, at 1.44:1 this season.
Cornell does have adequate size, with leading scorer Ryan Wittman standing at 6'6'' and third-scorer Jeff Foote somewhere north of seven feet, but they've never faced a team like Missouri. After suffering double-digit losses to Indiana, Princeton, Minnesota, and St. Johns, the Tigers should have this one in the bag.
Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll should have big days as the Tigers get the ball to the post, but the biggest ones to really thrive might be shooters, Matt Lawrence and Kimmie English. hey should be able to beat their Big Red counterparts down the floor and get open for some good looks. The Tigers will roll over Cornell.
Both second round games are potentially very interesting for Mizzou. Either they'll run into Mountain West buzzsaw Utah State, one of only two teams in the tournament with 30 wins, or Marquette, a Final Four contender before senior guard Dominic James was lost for the year with a broken foot.
The Utah State Aggies have the size that has given Missouri problems. Forwards Gary Wilkinson and Tai Wesley lead a three-pronged attack that is completed by guard Jared Quayle, and they handle the ball pretty well. Whether or not their record has been inflated by a less than sterling schedule will be judged in their game against Marquette.
The Golden Eagles are a far different story. They were one of the top teams in the best conference in the nation this year until losing James. Since then, they've lost five of six games, albeit the fact that all of their losses have come against Top 25 opponents. Does Marquette have enough depth to get past Missouri without James?
Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal are good guards, but both play more than 33 minutes a game, which might lead to exhaustion against the Fastest 40. Lazar Hayward is also a talented player who can fill the cup, but beyond that this team has few threats. I think depth and shooting (Marquette only has one player shooting over 40 percent from three, and three over 35 percent) are the Tigers biggest advantages.
Even if Missouri loses against Cornell and chokes away their first Tourney birth since 2003, Tiger fans have to be happy about how this season has gone. Selection Sunday is finally relevant in Columbia, and should be for years to come.