The last time the Drake Bulldogs earned an invitation to the Big Dance was in the 2007-08 season as the No. 14 team in nation. Behind a record of 28-5, they earned a No. 5 seed, but the stay was short-lived with an early first-round exit. That was Keno Davis’ only go-round with the team in what has been a revolving door at the head coach position ever since.
Darian DeVries has taken over the helm this season and the turnaround has been instant as one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference this year.
The season started on a down note with an early 100-71 pasting by Colorado State as heavy 14.5-point underdogs, but since that blowout the Bulldogs have been stringing together long runs of straight-up wins with an occasional loss here and there.
Drake’s nonconference schedule is highlighted by back-to-back upsets against Boise State and North Dakota State closing as an underdog. It also beat New Mexico State 66-63 in late December as a 7.5-point underdog. The Bulldogs ended their run outside the conference at 11-2 SU with a 10-1 record against the spread.
A shaky start to conference play includes losses to Loyola-Chicago at home and Northern Iowa on the road, but the overall talent on this team makes it one to watch once the MVC Tournament rolls around in early March.
The Bulldogs suffered a big loss at the guard position when senior Nick Norton went down for the season with a torn ACL. He was the team’s leader in assists while also averaging 14 points per game. The added pressure of his loss will fall on the shoulders of senior forward Nick McGlynn and freshman guard D.J. Wilkins as two other Bulldogs scoring in double figures. McGlynn leads the team in both scoring and rebounds, with Wilkins second on the list behind Norton in assists.
DeVries has one of the youngest rosters in the conference, but there is some solid veteran scoring depth in senior guard Brady Ellingson. He immediately stepped up his game when Norton went down and he should become a bigger part of the mix as the rest of the season wears on. The Bulldogs can also turn to junior forward Tremell Murphy for some veteran leadership in light of so many underclassmen on this team.
The battle for the top spot in the MVC this season includes teams like Valparaiso, Indiana State and Loyola-Chicago. However, that entire trio of teams has yet to show the staying power to remain at the top of the list given each one’s inconsistent play over the entire course of the season. You can heavily discount Drake’s slow start in conference play in light of what this team has been able to accomplish over the course of its entire schedule.
With the exception of the MVC Tournament winner, the next-best team in this conference could be hard-pressed to garner enough attention to earn at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. While the competition over the rest of the regular season should remain tight for the Bulldogs, you should still keep this team on the radar screen when putting together a list of Mid-Major sleepers for March. With the unfortunate loss of Norton, things could go the other way for Drake. However, the Bulldogs are much deeper than most college basketball experts give them credit for.