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Drake men’s basketball season recap

Former Drake men's basketball head coach, Darian DeVries talks to his players during a break in play The Drake men's basketball team won the MVC tournament this past season, punching their ticket to the ensuing NCAA tournament. In the round of 64, the Bulldogs fell 66-61 to the Washington State Cougars. Photo by Drue Wolfe

Now that March Madness has come to an end, there are many aspects of the 2023-24 season to reflect on, and for the Drake men’s basketball team, this past season was one for the books.  

From the first exhibition game on Nov. 2 against the Truman State Bulldogs to Drake’s last game of the season against the No. 7 seed Washington State Cougars in the first round of March Madness, Drake has been on a roller coaster of ups and downs throughout this past season. 

The Bulldogs 2022-2023 season ended with a tough loss to the University of Miami 63-56 in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament in Albany, New York. Despite going 27-8 last season, getting knocked out of the first round of the tournament was not how the team wanted to go out. So, when training for the 2023-2024 season started, making it back to the tournament was the team’s  clear end goal.  

Leading up to the season, Drake had some tough matchups with non-conference teams. Non-conference games add another level of unpredictability to matchups, and thus, in theory, would help prepare the team for anything.  

Some notable non-conference games for the team prior to conference play this season were the Bulldogs’ 72-53 win over the University of Nevada on Dec. 9 in Nevada and the Bulldogs’ 79-78 loss against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Dec. 22 in Birmingham, Alabama. These games helped the Bulldogs in their preparation for conference play due to the tough competition presented in each one. The team also landed a huge 92-55 win over the Alcorn State Braves on Dec. 19 at home over winter break.  

Heading into conference play, the team kicked things off with a strong 83-65 win over the Valparaiso Beacons on Nov. 29, followed by a victory over the Missouri State Bears in Des Moines on Dec. 3. The team took a little break from conference play until their Jan. 2 game against the Illinois State Redbirds, in which they pulled away with a 88-71 win.

Over the next three months, the team played a plethora of crucial games. Two games in particular that played a key role in Drake’s eventual Missouri Valley Conference championship were their Jan. 10 win over the Indiana State Sycamores and their Feb. 10 win over the Bradley University Braves. In both games, Drake controlled the floor and won by relatively safe margins. 

In the eventual MVC tournament, they faced off against both Indiana State and Bradley once again. With the confidence from their previous win against Bradley, Drake managed to pull through against the Braves in the MVC semifinals and secure an MVC championship berth. 

The Bulldogs then managed to pull off a strong 84-80 win against Indiana State to win the MVC tournament and secure a ticket to the 2024 March Madness as a No. 10 seed. 

After selection weekend, the Bulldogs were set to play No. 7 Washington State in Omaha, Nebraska, for the Round of 64.  

Prior to the game, the Bulldogs were the slight betting favorites. Despite Vegas pushing for them, the Bulldogs struggled all game. At the end of the first half, the Bulldogs were down 33-29. Eventually with just under eight minutes left in the second half  the Bulldogs built up a 54-46 lead. In those final eight minutes, the Bulldogs would score just seven more points, eventually fumbling away the lead and falling 66-61 to Washington State.  

In the weeks following the loss, head coach Darian DeVries resigned from Drake to take a coaching opportunity at West Virginia University, bringing his star-studded son Tucker DeVries with him. 

Once the DeVries family announced their departure, guard Atin Wright, guard Kevin Overton, and guard Conor Enright entered the transfer portal with the hopes of being picked up by a bigger school. Sophomore guard Colby Garland also planned to leave the Drake program and has officially transferred to Longwood University. In the end, Drake will likely be down its entire 2023-24 starting line (DeVries, Wright, Overton, Enright and graduate student Darnell Brodie) and then some.  

Although the 2024-2025 season will require some rebuilding, newly signed head coach Ben McCollum, who had previously coached at Northwest Missouri State University, will be working closely with remaining players and new recruits to shape a new era of Drake men’s basketball.  

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