It’s officially March Madness now that the regular season is over. Not only is it time for Arch Madness in St. Louis, Missouri, but it is the time the Missouri State Bears proved everyone wrong. The Bears were predicted to seed eighth in the preseason.
Under a new coach, few returners and a rough previous season, there were not a lot of high hopes for an outstanding nonconference schedule — or conference schedule for that matter.
And the season started that way.
The men’s basketball team started the season winning at home and losing on the road. Things weren’t going the way the Bears wanted, but it’s the first year under Dana Ford and growing pains were expected.
When Missouri Valley Conference play started in January, the team became visibly more frustrated with the situation. The Bears lost to Valparaiso and Evansville, teams that are at the very bottom of the league.
Then, a loss to Drake on Jan. 20 changed everything.
Ford said the team met after the 74-63 loss in Des Moines, Iowa, and had an open and honest discussion.
The Bears put a game plan into motion.
Three days later, the Bears played MVC defending champs Loyola and dominated the game. The Bears held Loyola to 35 points while scoring 70. The league took notice of the win. In the very next game, Missouri State held Bradley to 37 points. The Bears became only the second team in the MVC to hold consecutive opponents to 37 points or less.
Other teams saw what Missouri State was doing and within two games, other MVC teams had figured out what the Bears were doing. Northern Iowa defeated MSU twice by knowing how to handle their slow offense and medium-level pressure.
Missouri State lost three of its last four games, and the final game of the regular season was the toughest loss of all. The Bears lost to Drake again, this time 73-62.
It was senior day, a day to celebrate Josh Webster, Ryan Kreklow and Jarred Dixon. After the loss, the seniors walked into the postgame press conference and seemed more ready for the MVC Tournament than anything else.
“We still can win St. Louis. I believe, these guys believe we can do it,” Dixon said. “It’s not over yet.”
Ford’s postgame conference was less upbeat. The head coach walked in somberly. His talk was slow and less energetic than we’ve seen.
“I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t do a better job to help those seniors get a conference championship when they were knocking on the door with four games left, three at home,” Ford said.
Ford said he would take Sunday to “lick his wounds” and get ready for the tournament.
The Valley released the bracket for the Arch Madness tournament on Sunday, March 3. Missouri State is officially the No. 4 seed and will face Bradley on Friday, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.
The Bears defeated the Braves 69-64 on Jan. 12, before they changed their playing style, and again on Jan. 26 when they held them to 37 points. The Braves are 17-14 overall, compared to Missouri State’s 16-15.