Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 3/16/12
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Marcus Denmon was asked to pick the high point of the season, and the Missouri guard had plenty of options: Big wins over Illinois and California, that dramatic win over rival Kansas and an in-season tournament title in the Tigers' own backyard. None of them compared to their impressive run to a Big 12 tournament title last weekend. "Winning the Big 12 championship in the tournament was one of my most favorites," Denmon said Thursday, "because all season long we strived to win championships, and that was one of the most important ones we won this season." Not the most important one, though. That tournament is only beginning. The second-seeded Tigers (30-4) open the pursuit of their first national championship on Friday against No. 15 seed Norfolk State, the MEAC champions and winners of seven straight games. The winner will play Florida or Virginia on Sunday. "We're just blessed that we are here and have the opportunity to play and all we can do is prepare for our opponent, Norfolk State," Denmon said, "and that's where we have our focus." The NCAA tournament experience isn't new to Denmon and the rest of the Tigers. They're in the 68-team field for the fourth straight season, which means seniors like Denmon, fellow guards Kim English and Matt Pressey, and forwards Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe have stepped onto the hardwood under the brightest of lights plenty of times. It's only the sixth senior class in school history to qualify for the tournament each season, and having already broken the school record for most regular-season wins, the Tigers can break the record for single-season wins by getting through two games in the NCAA tournament. Missouri won 31 games three years ago, when the seniors were freshmen. That team also won three games to win the Big 12 title before advancing to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament. "Experience is helpful but it's not more important than what takes place in preparing, and more importantly, what happens during a game," said English, whose virtuoso performance against Baylor in the Big 12 title game sewed up tourney MVP honors. "Carmelo Anthony had no NCAA experience and won the whole thing," English said, "so it's not that important, but we're comfortable with the setting, the long time outs, the media, and the intensity, and the level in which these games are played for forty minutes." It's a level of comfort that Norfolk State is sorely lacking. The Spartans (25-9) qualified for their first NCAA tournament after 15 years at the Division I level, knocking off Bethune-Cookman in their conference title game for the automatic berth. It was only Norfolk State's second MEAC tournament final. "We worked hard to get to that point," Spartans coach Anthony Evans said, "and as a coach you know there are certainly opportunities to get to the championship, we knew we were going to have a good basketball team, and it turned out to be our season." Norfolk State may not have the same kind of NCAA tournament pedigree that Missouri carries into the field, but it also has plenty of guys who have been through the grinder. Senior forward Kyle O'Quinn averages 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, and at 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, gives Missouri coach Frank Haith flashbacks of defending Kansas big man Thomas Robinson. Chris McEachin, the Spartans' second-leading scorer, is also a senior. "With it being such a new experience and the first time the school is going to it - being part of that - you take that as an initiative of going in there and trying the to win the thing," O'Quinn said. "You're in it to win it, but it also being a first experience you're taking everything in, being at press conferences and interviews, you have jitter bugs." He expects those to go away as the tipoff nears. After all, Norfolk State hung tough in a two-point loss to Marquette earlier this season, and beat another NCAA tournament team in LIU-Brooklyn. The Spartans even went on the road in the ACC and played Virginia Tech hard into the second half, falling 73-60. "We're trying to stay focused, trying to keep a normal routine, as normal as possible," Evans said. "All the media attention and everything is great, but we have a job to do." It's a big job, too, against one of the nation's hottest teams. "This is a senior-laden team and they have been focused all year, stayed in the process, and with that said, I feel good about us being focused," Haith said. "We've had opportunities to lose that throughout the year, but this team has been determined and resilient. I anticipate us having great focus on Friday afternoon."
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Winners and losers from 'Monday Night Football'

Each MLB team’s most important free agent

LaVar Ball refuses to thank Donald Trump in CNN interview

DeMarcus Cousins elbows Russ in head, gets ejected

WATCH: Hornets' Cody Zeller hilariously rejected by the rim

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

JR Smith shovels no look-dime to Dwayne Wade for bucket

WATCH: Mohamed Sanu hauls in tough one-handed TD

Rams lose Robert Woods for a couple weeks to shoulder injury

Bears TE Zach Miller finally at home three weeks after traumatic leg injury

Jerry Jones reportedly wants secret ballot in Goodell's contract talks

Baker Mayfield stripped of captaincy, won't start vs. WVU

The 'Wheelin' and Thielen in Minnesota' quiz

What each NFL team should be grateful for this Thanksgiving

Sports & Politics Intersect: Is Jerry out of his league?

Winners and losers from NBA's first month

MLS conference finals predictions: Who will advance to play for Cup trophy?

Should the Broncos make Tyrod Taylor their next quarterback?

15 mid-majors you need to know before you hear about them in March

Follow Ben Simmons as he leads us to the NBA's unknown future

The Saints flipped the script to revive their season

The 15 best and 15 worst MLB signings of the last decade

14 things we hated about 2017 college football season

Vikings' unnecessary quarterback conundrum is Mike Zimmer's doing

College Basketball News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

The 'Wheelin' and Thielen in Minnesota' quiz

What each NFL team should be grateful for this Thanksgiving

NFL Week 11 injury report

Sports & Politics Intersect: Is Jerry out of his league?

15 mid-majors you need to know before you hear about them in March

The 'An I, Tonya for an eye (or knee)' quiz

Should the Broncos make Tyrod Taylor their next quarterback?

The 15 best and 15 worst MLB signings of the last decade

The 'It's a major award!' quiz

Follow Ben Simmons as he leads us to the NBA's unknown future

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker