CSU (25-8), which finished second in a conference that has five of its nine teams in the field, received a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will play No. 9 Missouri (23-10).
"I would've guessed 7. We were kind of shocked that we got an 8," CSU senior forward Pierce Hornung said from the Rio Mexican Restaurant where the team hosted a watch party Sunday. "But you've got to go with what you get."
For the second straight year, the Rams will head to the Bluegrass State, playing Thursday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. -- a destination senior forward Greg Smith did not expect.
"You didn't hear Lexington. You were hearing Philly and all these other places," Smith said. "But I'm just glad it happened."
The 8-9 matchup is strength on strength, as the two teams both rank in the top four in the country total rebounding percentage. CSU is tops at 58.7 percent, but Mizzou isn't far behind in fourth at 56.4 percent.
The Tigers, who finished 11-7 in their first year in the SEC and had RPI top-50 wins over VCU (23), Illinois (39), Ole Miss (50) and Florida (6), shoot 46.0 percent and score 76.2 points a game, but it's their defense that CSU coach Larry Eustachy brought up Sunday.
"They like to pressure and they like to trap," said Eustachy, who will be guiding his fourth different team in the tournament after coaching Utah State, Iowa State and Southern Miss to the Big Dance. "We've got to take care of the ball to have a chance."
The Rams were one-and-done in the tournament last season, turning the ball over 21 times in a 58-41 loss to Murray State. That experience, Smith said, should help prevent a similar performance this time.
"We're not going to get caught up in so much of the hype, as we did last year," Smith said. "You see these different teams that have been here before and the way they act. Now we're going to be like them this year."
After starting the season 21-4 and cracking the national rankings for the first time in 59 years, the Rams have slowed down the past month in going 6-6 over their final dozen games. Eustachy said his team looked "sluggish" and "tired" their last time out, a 75-65 loss to UNLV on Friday in the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament. Giving players two days off since then, he said, should have them fresh and ready to play better.
"It's a long season, and we've laid it out there a lot, harder than anybody in the country. Nobody does anything harder than us," he said. "I feel that we will leave it out there on the court, and if it's good enough, it's good enough."