Most college basketball fans had the Missouri Tigers losing to the Spartans in the NCAA tournament; only it was the wrong Spartans. The Norfolk State Spartans, the MEAC champions and the 15 seed in the West regional shockingly ended the second-seeded Tigers season Friday with a thrilling 86-84 victory in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. It was just the 5th time in tournament history a 15 seed had taken down a 2 seed, and the first time since 2001 when Iowa State was upset by Hampton. The most successful regular season in Missouri Tiger basketball history ended in complete and utter disaster. The Tigers won a school record 30 games, including 14 conferences games, also a school record. A team that had overcome the firing of their head coach, the hiring of a new one, an undersized lineup, and an injury to arguably the team’s most valuable player could not overcome Kyle O’Quinn and his Norfolk State Spartans.
It was over before you could blink. Everything from the Big 12 tournament championship to the 2nd place finish in arguably the best conference in the nation all seemed to fade away. As the clock began to tick and it became apparent that Norfolk State was capable of the upset, the memories of a truly great season flashed before Tiger fans eyes. And after the final buzzer sounded and Norfolk State celebrated their miracle, it still seemed surreal. How could this happen? This was the season for Missouri to put their program on the map nationally. All the promises Kim English made about the Tigers reaching the final four seemed to slip into oblivion.
The Tigers became the first team in NCAA tournament history to make at least 10 3-pointers, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, commit fewer than 10 turnovers and still lose the game. Missouri also became just the second team in NCAA tournament history to lose their first round game after winning at least 30 regular season games, joining the 2011 Belmont Bruins. Staggering, beyond belief, inconceivable, and nearly impossible; this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. “Disappointed in the way it ended here. Proud that I’m leaving Missouri basketball 100x better than the way I found it. Special four years,” Kim English tweeted shortly after the loss. English, who shot just 1 for 12 from the field in Missouri’s loss to Norfolk State, along with fellow seniors Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey, Jarret Sutton, Andrew Jones, Ricardo Ratliffe, and Steve Moore saw his college career end in shocking disappointment.
However, it’s extremely unfair to judge this remarkable class on one game. This senior class was the most successful senior class to ever suit up and play for the Tigers. Over their 4-year careers in Columbia, the Tigers went 107-34 and made an appearance in the NCAA tournament every year, including an Elite 8 run in 2009. The 107 wins were the most wins by any senior class in school history. Pressey, Moore, Sutton, and Jones likely will see their basketball careers end, but Denmon, Ratliffe, and English will likely play professionally overseas in Europe, if not in the NBA. Between Denmon, Ratliffe, and English, English projects as the best NBA prospect. Standing at 6’ 6”, English has shown the ability to be an effective perimeter player as well as a solid interior defender. Doubts about English’s ability to effectively play the 3 in the NBA are legitimate and justified, but look for English to be selected in the mid to late 2nd round.
Ricardo Ratliffe is extremely undersized and with his lack of perimeter skills, he would be forced to play the 4 in the NBA where he would likely be giving up 4 to 5 inches of height and 20 to 30 pounds. That being said, Ratliffe proved to be an extremely efficient offensive player this season (led the nation in field goal percentage) and a versatile player in the low block. Ratliffe doesn’t project as an NBA draft pick, but I find it hard to believe the nations leader in field goal percentage doesn’t land on a professional roster somewhere in Europe.
Marcus Denmon is an extremely interesting prospect because he has proven that he can effectively handle the ball and shoot from behind the arc with consistency. Denmon will likely be forced to play point guard in the NBA, almost exclusively as a backup. He could be a solid pickup for a team that needs a backup point guard that can spread the floor and score the basketball. Look for Denmon to be selected in the mid to late 2nd round this June.
As for Michael Dixon, Phil Pressey, and Lawrence Bowers, they still have time to leave their legacy at Missouri. With talented transfers Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, the Tigers will likely be competing for a top 3 finish as they begin play in the SEC next season. Dixon, Pressey, and Bowers will use the disappointment they felt after falling to Norfolk State to motivate them this offseason. This Tigers season was one of extreme ups and downs, but unfortunately it won’t be the Big 12 tournament championship or the thrilling 74-71 win over Kansas that will be forever remembered. It will be the stunning, unexplainable loss in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament at the hands of the Norfolk State Spartans that will be etched in memories forever.