STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
With the regular season over, the time comes to think about the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. ‘Arch Madness,’ as it is known in the MVC, will have a major impact on how the NCAA Tournament will be seeded. The final two teams in the MVC Tournament are guaranteed seats in the big dance, which means that Drake still has a shot if they can pull off a couple upsets.
Finishing the season ranked seventh in the MVC with a record of 6-12 in the conference, Drake has its work cut out for it. They play the last ranked Bradley Braves on Thursday, vying for a chance to take on the second seeded Northern Iowa Panthers. For Drake, this tournament is a fresh start to a trying season.
“Everyone’s back to 0-0,” Coach Ray Giacoletti said Saturday after the regular season finale. “It’s a new season.”
Drake has improved since 2015 began, with a 6-11 record since January 1, including a three game winning streak in February, the Bulldogs have shown some talent and improvement, especially from underclassmen Reed Timmer and Jacob Enevold Jensen.
“All these guys. They have that fight in them,” Giacoletti said. “They have a bright future in front of them.”
Ranked ninth in offense and defense, Drake has been statistically the worst team in the Valley, but their current run has set them up well to make some noise in the tournament. They’ve been battle tested on both sides of the ball, and that has helped them adjust with such a young team.
“We’ve gotten better since Christmas, found a little success,” Giacoletti said. “Now it’s like the gladiators. Lose, and you are fed to the lions.”
Timmer leads the team in scoring with 11.6 points per game and Jensen has the most rebounds, averaging over five boards per game. Jordan Daniels was energized the team with his play against Loyola last week, as did Jensen, scoring a career high 21 points. Gary Ricks Jr. was instrumental in the victory over Missouri State on Senior Day. Chris Caird also came in clutch, draining a game-winning three against Southern Illinois.
But the defense needs to step up if Drake wants to be a contender in Arch Madness the defense. Drake has given up 67 points per game as a team and has the worst field goal percentage defensively. Opponents shoot 48 percent against them and Drake will have no hopes of moving on if that continues.
“If there’s no improvement on the defensive end, we’re not going to last very long,” Giacoletti said.
Drake takes on Bradley on Thursday night at 8:30 PM at the ScottTrade Center in St. Louis. The winner will face UNI on Friday. To see the bracket, go to mvc-sports.com.