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Missouri’s Dubious Distinction

The Missouri Tigers needed to beat the Georgia Bulldogs on Tuesday night in Athens, Ga.

They didn't.

They didn't even come close.

Inaccurate shooting, impatient ballhandling, and ineffective defense led to a blowout loss against a team that was finished as an at-large NCAA tournament candidate in early January. Missouri trailed Georgia, 67-43, with two minutes left in regulation before applying some cosmetics to the final score of 71-56. Missouri might still be on the bubble — if the Tigers can win five or six straight games, they might still have a shot at an at-large bid — but it's now clear that Frank Haith's team is on the wrong side of the bubble conversation. It's quite likely that Missouri won't make the Final Four this season.

Just how many times has Missouri reached the Final Four, you might wonder? The answer is the same as Northwestern's number of NCAA tournament appearances and Nebraska's number of NCAA tournament wins: zero.

Surprised? Let's talk about this topic in greater detail:

Is Missouri men's basketball the most accomplished Division I program without a Final Four appearance? There are a number of ways to answer this question, none of them inherently more valid than another. If you go by NCAA tournament appearances over the past 28 years (since 1986), Xavier has reached the Big Dance 21 times. The Musketeers lack a Final Four, though — they've never been able to experience the pleasure (and pain) of losing their last game of the season on an April Saturday or Monday.

If you measure accomplishments by each weekend of the NCAA tournament, Alabama could put forth an argument: It reached the Sweet 16 five times in a seven-season stretch, from 1985 through 1991, but never made the Final Four.

Tennessee is something of a grab bag in this discussion. The Volunteers can point to various accomplishments across the spectrum: They cultivated stars in the 1970s (Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, aka, "Ernie and Bernie"). They entered the 2000 Sweet 16 as the highest-seeded team in their regional. The Vols made seven NCAA tournaments in an eight-season stretch from 1976 through 1983. Their run under former coach Bruce Pearl was so strong that Tennessee was seeded lower than sixth only twice in six NCAA appearances. The Volunteers don't have one trump card, but they can point to an accumulation of several smaller feats.

Boston College can say that it has made an Elite Eight in three different decades: the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. The Eagles have been led by distinguished coaches such as Tom Davis, Jim O'Brien (a disgraced coach due to off-court issues, but an extremely smart X-and-O guy), and national champion Gary Williams, who lifted a trophy with Maryland in 2002. The team made the Big Dance on a regular basis under former coach Al Skinner. Many programs with fewer accomplishments over the past 50 years have tasted a Final Four, all while B.C. has been left outside the candy store.

In terms of overall NCAA tournament appearances without a Final Four, Brigham Young stands at the forefront of this discussion. The Cougars have been to the tournament 27 times in their history, dating all the way back to 1950. No other school can match BYU's longevity, and no other team on this list eclipses those 27 Dance cards…

… not even Missouri, which sits at 26 appearances in school history.

Yet, Missouri just might be the Colin Montgomerie of college basketball, the "Best To Never Achieve What Everyone In The Sport Dreams About."

Since the NCAA tournament began to be seeded in 1979, Missouri has been seeded no worse than fourth on eight occasions. Former coach Norm Stewart fielded great teams in the early 1980s and guided his 1994 squad to a No. 1 seed. The Tigers made Elite Eights in 2002 and 2009 under Quin Snyder and Mike Anderson. Most of all, Missouri has regularly taken basketball seriously – formerly in the Big Eight Conference, currently in the SEC after moving from the Big 12. The Tigers consider Kansas — one of the most decorated and iconic college basketball programs of all time — as a foremost rival. Kansas and Missouri played riveting and enthralling games for decades in the Big Eight and Big 12. Did Mizzou really not make a single Final Four all those years?

It's true.

Temple never made a Final Four under John Chaney… but it did reach college basketball's holy grail twice in the 1950s.

Purdue never made a Final Four under Gene Keady… but the Boilermakers earned Final Four spots in 1969 and 1980.

Missouri and BYU stand out as the two most accomplished programs that have never made the Final Four, but BYU didn't have Kansas as a rival and competition partner each season, the kind of opponent that makes a team better over the long run of the season. If you add culture and basketball heritage to this discussion — not allowing raw numbers to be the sole basis for your conclusion — Missouri probably is number one.

The Tigers are indeed saddled with a most dubious distinction.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments in 2014. He contributes to Crossover Chronicles and other Bloguin sites.

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