March 18, 2009

Will experience be a factor for Tigers?

Contrary to popular belief, the Missouri Tigers do have quite a bit of NCAA tournament experience. Mike Anderson and Matt Zimmerman have coached in the Dance. >Melvin Watkins and T.J. Cleveland have coached and played in it. Michael Anderson, Jr. played in one at UAB. But as far as players who will be on the floor, Missouri's as green as they come.

No player on Missouri's roster outside of Anderson has ever played in an NCAA tournament game. And though the basket is still ten feet high and the court is still 94 feet long, the Tigers know Friday will feel a little bit different.

"I mean, it's just the atmosphere, just the stage," Anderson, Jr. said. "You just kind of feel the pressure on yourself when you go out there. It's different, you realize a lot's at stake."

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Tigers is the first-round opponent. Cornell played in the NCAA tournament just last year and the majority of that team is back for round two this week.

"I didn't realize it last year, but I'll say it this year: Leading up to this has been way different with our guys. There's a calmness about them, there's a business approach," said Cornell coach Steve Donahue. "Last year was just a complete blowaway. You don't know it until you go through it. I would hope that's an advantage."

But the Tigers figure nerves and experience will be come far less important once the ball goes in the air.

"You expect some jitters," Anderson, Jr. said. "But once you get that sweat going, it's just another basketball game."

Also in the Tigers' favor is that they're not the usual first-time tournament team. Missouri starts three seniors and two juniors. They are no small school Cinderella, but a third seed who won their conference tournament. The Tigers are not, they insist, just happy to be here.

"Not at all," Leo Lyons said. "I'll be satisfied when I have a ring on my finger."

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