Senior Tulio Da Silva dunks the ball

Senior Tulio Da Silva dunks the ball. Da Silva is one of the few returning players for the Bears. Da Silva played for the Brazilian national team at 15 years old. Since joining Missouri State, Da Silva has become a fan favorite. He was named the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year at the end of last season.

It’s here. It’s time. The moment Missouri State fans have been waiting for: basketball season.

The expectations for the men’s basketball team are at an all-time high. In head coach Dana Ford’s second year, the Bears were predicted to get first in the Missouri Valley Conference, and several other preseason predictions have the Bears seeding into the NCAA tournament.

“I am surprised because I think that you have to really have an understanding of not just the hype but you have to have an understanding about what it takes to win a league,” Ford said after the poll came out.

Ford said that despite all the hype around the program, the Bears are keeping their heads down.

“I think if you pick our guys first or last, they’re probably going to approach everything the same way,” Ford said.

Everyone got a quick look at the team during the preseason exhibition against Washington University on Oct. 30. The Bears had positives and negatives but more negatives, according to Ford.

But, as Ford reminds, it’s only November.

The Bears have a long way to go before they are the team preseason polls predict, but Ford said if the Bears can work as a unit, they’ll be in good shape come January and February.

A thorn in the side of some fans is the lack of playing time from certain players. Ford said sophomore Jared Ridder, junior Gaige Prim and freshman Ford Cooper Jr. are not injured, per say, but are sitting out for precautionary reasons. Come game time on Tuesday, Nov. 5, there’s a chance all three could play, but Ford said it’s a game time decision.

“If we were in January or February, (Gaige) would be playing for sure, but it’s just November,” Ford said.

With Prim’s absence, the Bears saw senior Tulio Da Silva back in at center. Da Silva said he prefers playing as a forward but will do what is best for his team.

Regardless, the Bears have depth on the bench they didn’t have last year. Eleven different Bears stepped on the court during the exhibition game, and no one played more than 30 minutes.

Last year, there were several players who averaged almost 40 minutes a game.

Ford has said the goal for this season is to limit minutes for players in order to maximize performance. With that, Ford said on Monday it’s extremely likely no one will redshirt this year, barring any injuries.

“I just don’t anticipate it,” Ford said. “The reason being is because of the makeup of the team. What I mean by that is, I think one of our advantages come league play is going to be our depth. and I don’t want to limit one of our biggest advantages because of redshirting now.”

The Bears will be tested during Tuesday’s matchup against Little Rock. The Trojans ended last season 10-21 but averaged 74.2 points per game while the Bears averaged 68.9 per game. The Bears’ .500 record marked an impressive start for Ford, and that’s part of the reason the expectations are high for the Bears.

“They’re a tough physical team — really push it hard in transition,” Ford said. “It’ll be a difficult first game for us, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

A long season is ahead before the predictions are proven correct or not, but the Bears have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves before then.