With only one game remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs are gearing up for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament as they seek to build on their recent improved play.
Drake has won four of its last six games and is trying to improve its position in the standings before the start of the tournament.
“We are playing with a lot more confidence having won four out of the last six games,” sophomore Seth VanDeest said. “We are playing well at the right time of the season, and that is very important.”
Drake is currently ranked seventh in the MVC at 6-10 in conference play (12-16 overall) and still has an outside shot at moving up a spot for the tournament, which is important because the first six seeds have a bye in the first round.
“We need to keep working hard in practice and focus on improving,” VanDeest said. “We still need to improve our rebounding and many other things if we want to finish the season strong.”
The Bulldogs need to win their remaining games and need Evansville to lose its last two games as well. But at least the Bulldogs might be able to put some pressure on the Purple Aces.
“We know we have to get some help ,but really, we just have to take care of our business,” sophomore Ben Simons said. “We know we have to win the rest of our games in the regular season for that to happen”
On Wednesday, the Bulldogs faced off against Evansville in their last home game of the season. The Purple Aces are currently sixth in the MVC at 8-8 in conference play and would love to secure the first-round bye. Results for Wednesday night’s game were not available for this edition of The Times-Delphic, so details will be published in next Monday’s issue.
In their first meeting of the season, the Purple Aces stifled the Bulldogs en route to a comfortable 67-51 victory. The Bulldogs only shot 34 percent from the field and made only 15-of-29 free throws. Attacking the paint will be one of the keys of the game for Drake.
According to the MVC tiebreaking formula, if both Drake and Evansville finish tied at the sixth spot, the deciding factor would be the strength of non-conference schedule. And as of right now, Drake would hold that tiebreaker over Evansville. That could change based on how opponents of each team finish out their respective seasons.
The sixth seed will play the third-place squad, which will be Indiana State after its victory over Northern Iowa on Tuesday night, in the quarterfinals of the State Farm MVC Tournament.
The last game of the season for Drake will be on the road against the Bradley Braves this Saturday. The Braves have had a rough season and are sitting in the cellar of the MVC at 3-13 in conference play.
Drake took care of Bradley 64-58 in the teams’ first meeting of the season. VanDeest led the way with 17 points and the Bulldogs really benefited from the charity stripe as they went 18-of-25 for the game.
There is a good chance that the Bulldogs will actually meet the Braves in the first round of the MVC.
As the seventh seed, Drake would square off against the 10th seed in a first-round play-in game. Bradley lost to Illinois State 51-50 on Tuesday night, so it has clinched the last spot in the Valley. The Redbirds are guaranteed a ninth-place finish.
In their last five meetings against the Braves, the Bulldogs own a 2-3 record.
Still, the Bulldogs are not too worried about who they will end up playing in the tournament or if they will earn that coveted first-round bye.
“Obviously you’d like to be up there, so you don’t have to play that extra game on Thursday,” Simons said. “Once the tournament starts, anything can happen. You see it every year where a surprise team comes out and wins a bunch of games and makes it to the NCAA tournament.”
And if the Bulldogs continue their recent surge, they might have a chance to upset some teams in the MVC tournament.
“Really, once you get to that point, it’s whoever’s playing really well,” Simons said. “Since we have been playing really well, I think it gives us a lot better shot to go in there and win three or four games.”