The Missouri Valley Conference tournament has not had a No. 1 seed win it all in 10 years.
Drake looks to change that, as the No. 20 Bulldogs begin tournament play Friday afternoon in St. Louis against Indiana State, hoping to eventually win their first-ever conference tournament title.
It is the first time Drake (25-4) will open the tournament as the No. 1 seed. The previous highest seed the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season champs had attained was No. 3 in 1986.
Although the top seed hasn’t won the tournament since Illinois State did so in 1998, Drake coach Keno Davis said he isn’t too concerned about the tournament’s past history.
“I feel pretty confident going in given the success we had all year, that we can play pressure free to some extent,” Davis said. “We’ve made our case already to the NCAA tournament.”
Drake enters the conference tournament having split its final six games following a school-record 21 game winning streak. The Bulldogs closed out the stretch with a 73-63 win over Wichita State last Saturday. Klayton Korver scored 19 points, and Leonard Houston and Adam Emmenecker each added 14.
With the victory, Drake reached the 25-win mark for the first time since 1968-69 - the season it reached the Final Four.
Besides trying to break a string of disappointments for the tournament’s top seed, Drake is also trying to turn around its own poor Missouri Valley tournament history. The Bulldogs are just 6-18 in the quarterfinals, and have not been to the semifinals since 1993.
Overall they are 11-29 in the MVC tournament and have never won the title.
“We’ve had a lot of firsts this year,” Davis said. “That would be a nice one as well.”
Drake swept two games this season against Indiana State (15-15) and has won eight of the last 10 between the teams.
The Bulldogs are facing a likely tired Indiana State team, which ousted Wichita State 71-67 on Thursday night in the first round. The eighth-seeded Sycamores have won five of their last seven overall.
Jay Tunnell and Gabe Moore scored 18 each points to lead the five starters in double figures on Thursday. Indiana State, which outscored Wichita State 26-12 at the foul line, did not have a basket the final 4:29, but did make 8-of-10 free throws in the final 2:35.
The Sycamores didn’t get any points from their bench, which concerns coach Kevin McKenna, who said the team will need its reserves to step up if it has a chance to upset the Bulldogs.
“We played a few guys quite a few minutes,” McKenna said. “We’re going to need some more production out of our bench. … We need more bench help, we need more bench minutes.”
The Sycamores haven’t advanced past the second round since 2001 when they won the tournament, but face a daunting tournament history. A top seed has never lost a quarterfinal game since the field expanded to 10 teams in 1997.
The winner of this game will play either fourth-seeded Creighton or No. 5 Bradley in the semifinals Saturday afternoon.