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Tigers decline to extend sadness into March
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Forget about March Madness. At Missouri, the conclusion of Mike Anderson's second year as coach is more like March gladness -- as in glad that a trying season is finally over.
As expected, a team that finished 16-16 and lost in the Big 12 tournament's first round for the third consecutive year is staying home from the postseason. Missouri has not played in the NCAA tournament since 2003, the final of five appearances in a row.
The inconsistent Tigers did not receive an NIT bid, and athletic director Mike Alden's pre-emptive rejection of a spot in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational assured that Missouri would not be among the 113 Division I teams -- nearly one-third of the 341 major college basketball programs -- still with something to play for.
Once again, Anderson led a cobbled-together team of Quin Snyder-era holdovers, junior college transfers and two relatives to several impressive wins, including defeats of four NCAA tournament teams: Coppin State, Purdue, Kansas State and Texas.
But whether in narrow early season losses to the likes of Arkansas, Illinois and Michigan State or the 37-point pasting inflicted in the rematch with Kansas State, Missouri never gelled, its coach acknowledged. The Tigers finished in 10th place in the conference regular season with a 6-10 record.
"This has been a trying year. There's no question about it," Anderson told the Kansas City Tiger Club.
On Jan. 27, senior guard Stefhon Hannah was punched in the face following an altercation with two employees of a downtown nightclub. The junior college transfer suffered a broken jaw, and along with teammates Jason Horton, Marshall Brown, Darryl Butterfield and Leo Lyons, was briefly suspended for violating curfew.
Anderson later kicked Hannah -- the team's leading scorer in each of his two seasons -- off the team for missing classes while recovering from surgery. While team officials initially portrayed the incident as an example of innocent college students caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Boone County prosecutors have charged Hannah and Horton with third-degree assault.
A trial for both is set for April 15. Hannah has since withdrawn from school, a university spokesman told The Associated Press on Monday.
The fracas outside Club Athena, which has since closed, marked the fourth time Missouri basketball players were involved in off-court violence or misconduct since Anderson's hire in March 2006.
Butterfield, like Hannah a junior college transfer, was arrested on assault charges for allegedly punching an ex-girlfriend. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace and received a suspended sentence and probation.
DeMarre Carroll, Anderson's nephew, was shot in the ankle outside another Columbia nightclub over summer break. Police said Carroll -- who was joined at the club by several teammates -- was a bystander trying to break up a fight.
And Kalen Grimes, the school's starting center and leading rebounder in Anderson's first season, was dismissed from the team after being arrested for hitting a man in the face with the butt of a shotgun in St. Louis in July.
With the departure of Hannah and seniors Horton, Brown, Butterfield and Vaidotas Volkus, Anderson finally will have his chance next season to shape the team with seven of his own recruits.
That group includes two in-state players: Marcus Denmon, a 6-foot-1 shooting guard from Hogan Prep in Kansas City, and Steve Moore, a 6-foot-9 forward from Truman High in Independence.
The remainder of Anderson's first recruiting class consists of Laurence Bowers, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Memphis, Tenn.; Miguel Paul, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Winter Haven, Fla.; Kim English, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame, a prep school; 6-foot-7 forward Keith Ramsey, a Florida junior college transfer; and Zaire Taylor, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Staten Island, N.Y., who sat out this season after transferring from Delaware.
The fate of Lyons, whose up-and-down play mirrored the team's inconsistency, remains uncertain. The junior forward, at 6-foot-9 the tallest player for the undersized Tigers, has said he will submit his name for consideration in the NBA draft.