COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers are headed to Nashville.
For the 27th time in program history, and the first time since 2013, Missouri will play in the NCAA Tournament. A year out from an eight-win season, Cuonzo Martin and a crop of talented newcomers helped the team to 20 wins, a No. 8 seed in the West bracket, and the No. 32 overall seed.
"I think our names being called is definitely a testament to all the hard work that we put in in the offseason and all the hard work that we put in during the season," junior forward Kevin Puryear said.
It will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the entire Missouri roster.
"I think it's really well-deserved of this team," graduate transfer guard Kassius Robertson said. "We really fought hard all season and I'm really glad we get another chance to play and I don't have to end my career on that last game that we played. We get another chance, and like I said to be in the Big Dance is obviously exciting, so I can't wait."
Missouri (20-12) will play ninth-seeded Florida State on Friday in Bridgestone Arena at approximately 8:45 p.m. (TBS-TV). The Seminoles have a 20-11 overall record and were 9-9 in the ACC. The winner of that game will face the winner of top-seeded Xavier and No. 16 North Carolina Central/Texas Southern in the second round Sunday.
"Still work to be done, but it's a great feeling," Martin said. "I'm just really overjoyed for our players because from the time I looked at guys' eyes when I took the job, to where we are now, it's an appreciation that you get as a coach, as a parent, as a father. And it's a good feeling."
The Southeastern Conference sent a record eight teams: Alabama (a No. 9 seed), Arkansas (7), Auburn (4), Florida (6), Kentucky (5), Missouri, Tennessee (3), and Texas A&M (7). The selection committee declined to put Missouri in the same bracket as Kansas, instead sending Seton Hall and N.C. State to Wichita, Kan. alongside Pennsylvania. Several Tigers looked letdown when the team was not placed in the Midwest region, but Puryear was not one of them.
"I was praying to God we wouldn't end up in Wichita," he said. "There is nothing— there is literally nothing in Wichita. I would have been fine wherever we played, but as far as Wichita, I've been playing in Wichita since I was a kid for different tournaments and there's not a whole lot out there."
Martin will make his third appearance in the tournament as a head coach. Tennessee made the Sweet Sixteen as an 11-seed from the First Four in 2013-14 in his final season in Knoxville, beating Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer before falling to Michigan, and California lost in the first round as a 4-seed in 2015-16 to Hawaii.
Missouri has been an 8-seed two other times, in 1995 and 1999. The Tigers beat Indiana and lost to No. 1 UCLA in '95 and lost to New Mexico in the first round in '99.
Florida State, the No. 38 overall seed, has wins against Florida, North Carolina, Syracuse, Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville and Clemson, all tournament teams. Martin said Leonard Hamilton, who has coached the Seminoles since 2003, is one of his role models in coaching. Senior forward Phil Cofer, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, originally signed to play for Martin at Tennessee before Martin was fired.
"I've talked to Leonard for years, really enjoy talking to him," Martin said. "A lot of respect for him, how he goes about his business. I've learned a lot from him even outside of basketball. I talk to him all the time and know his assistant coaches very well."
Missouri senior forward Jordan Barnett did not sit courtside with the team during the selection show. He was arrested early Saturday morning by MU Police on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and failure to drive in a single lane. Missouri's student-athlete handbook mandates a minimum one-week suspension for a first offense.
Martin said Barnett is currently suspended and will not play Friday against the Seminoles, but will travel with the team and practice. Barnett would be available for Sunday's game should the Tigers advance. Barnett is the team's second-leading scorer.