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Northwest men's basketball to head to Minnesota for 2024 NCAA Basketball Tournament

Mar. 13—On Sunday, Northwest Missouri State men's basketball was awarded an automatic bid into the 2024 NCAA Division II Tournament. The Bearcats, at 27-4 overall, earned the No. 2 seed in the Central Region.

Since Minnesota State University gained the top seed in the region, Northwest will travel to Mankato, Minnesota, for the opening rounds. Northwest will draw seventh-seeded Southwest Minnesota State in the first round, a team they're familiar with this season.

It's never easy to take on an opponent on the road, but Northwest knows they'll still have the support.

"It's always difficult. I mean, we've done it two years since I've been here, so we've went up north twice, and our fans, they travel so good," senior Wes Dreamer said. "It's going to feel just like a home game for us, but it's getting used to that and then we just need to come out with more energy than the other team."

Looking at the Bearcats of late, they not only won the MIAA Tournament, but are on a 16 game winning streak, but the belief wasn't quite there to start with this team early in the year, but now that crowd has been silenced.

"It's really exciting, especially with this group because we've been underestimated all year," assistant coach Xavier Kurth said. "People from the community and outside of it didn't expect us to be where we are right now."

In fact, earlier in the year the Bearcats lost to Southwest Minnesota State in the Hillyard Tip-off Classic in St. Joseph. Northwest dropped that contest, which was the second game of the season, by a score of 63-56. Northwest would lose three more games in a 14 game stretch, before going the rest of the way without a loss.

Now that a whole season has passed and teams have found their identity, this could be another dog fight.

"They beat us early in the year, so they're clearly a good team," Dreamer said. "I'm sure they've changed quite a bit over the season, as every team usually does, but just come up with a good game plan and figuring out how we're going to punish their defense, how we're going to get stops and just things like that... ultimately just comes down to energy."

While Northwest would've loved to host their fans and team in the opening rounds, going on the road still provides a sense of fun.

"Going on the road is almost more fun from a standpoint of, you're cheered against, you know, you're the underdog, you're the enemy," Kurth said. "It's almost more fun from a competitive standpoint. It's sick to quiet a gym than it is to get one going up."

While the team has a lot more to accomplish this season, Northwest has been dominant the past decade and more. For Lafayette alum Kurth, he's thankful for not only being a part of some of the success, but learning for the future.

"I'm learning from the best coach, in my opinion, in the world. Coach Mac (McCollum) is really good," Kurth said. "Moving forward, eventually head coaching jobs are going to open up, you know, assistant jobs are going to open up. I think right now I'm a really good assistant, but to progress and be a head coach, you know, I've learned from him."

Calvin Silvers can be reached at calvin.silvers@newspressnow.com.