Missouri returns to the Big Dance, faces Florida State.  

After a five-year hiatus, the Missouri Tigers are back in the NCAA Tournament. That’s reason to celebrate. The tournament is always special, but especially so after some very low years for the program. The Tigers (20-12) are back in the show. Missouri flopped early at the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, losing 62-60 to Georgia. It was a tough missed opportunity with the conference tournament on home soil, but a nice showing in the national tournament would more than make up for that.

Missouri, the 8 seed in the West Region, plays 9 seed Florida State on Friday in Nashville (8:50 p.m. on TBS).

First, the bad news. Missouri will be without second-leading scorer Jordan Barnett. A senior, Barnett was suspended for a game after an arrest for drunk driving. He’ll be missed, but the Tigers still have some firepower.

Now the good news. This is a game Missouri can win, as you might expect in an 8 seed vs. 9 seed game. Even winning a single game in the NCAA Tournament is a big deal. Missouri’s last win in the tournament was three coaches ago.

Also, the Tigers got a boost when freshman Michael Porter Jr. returned for that game in the SEC Tournament. He’s still getting back to his full capacity, but his length and scoring ability and basketball knowledge were on display.

Missouri has overcome some obstacles this season, but the Tigers are definitely playing shorthanded Friday. With transfers, injuries and now Barnett’s suspension, Missouri is down to just eight available players, only seven of whom saw significant minutes this season.

Coach Cuonzo Martin has his work cut out for him. Florida State presents a good challenge. The Seminoles (20-11) went 9-9 in a very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Florida State has an experienced coach, Leonard Hamilton, and experienced players, led in scoring by junior Terance Mann and seniors Phil Cofer and Braian Angola. They also have youth, with sophomore guard Trent Forrest facilitating the offense.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, Florida State has the nation’s 30th best offense. The Seminoles prefer to play at an up-tempo style. Missouri and Martin have preferred to slow it down and grind it out. That should make for an interesting tug of war from control of the pace of the game.

This is a tough one to project. It’s probably close to a 50-50 game. I think Missouri might actually have a slight edge, and the Tigers could be due for a bounce-back after the poor performance against Georgia. But it should be close.

If Missouri wins, the Tigers will probably play 1 seed Xavier on Sunday, unless North Carolina Central or Texas Southern become the first 16 seed to ever beat a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier went 28-5 and presents a big challenge. The Musketeers are led by sensational seniors Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.

Still, Missouri could pull the upset and make the Sweet 16. That’s the beauty of March Madness, anything can happen, and the opportunities are huge.

By Benjamin Herrold

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