Stage set for Drake’s first Arch Madness match up
Justin Miller | Drake Basketball
St. Louis, MO – Head coach Darian DeVries and the No. 2 seed Drake Bulldogs will begin their march towards bringing the school’s first Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship in 15 years with a 6 p.m. tip against Steve Prohm and the No. 7 seed Murray State Racers in the quarterfinal round of Arch Madness. Drake comes into the game with a 24-7 record (15-5 in the Valley) while the Racers are coming off a victory against Valparaiso in dominant fashion winning in the first round Thursday night 78-50 to improve to 17-14 (11-9).
Now, it is a cliché but there is some truth behind it that it is hard to beat a team three times. The Bulldogs were successful against Murray State this year winning both games and outscoring them 174-132 in those meetings.
“I don’t buy into that at all, when we play them on Friday it is a new 40-minutes and whether we beat them twice or lost to them twice it is whoever plays the best,” Darian DeVries said in Tuesday’s press conference.
It has been that mindset that has led Drake to a 7-3 MVC Tournament record under DeVries including back-to-back championship appearances. Despite being the second seed after losing the regular season championship to Bradley, the Bulldogs have still been regarded as the favorite to win the tournament in most ESPN, CBS, and other networks’ websites.
Setting the Bulldogs apart from their conference foes has been their veterans with Roman Penn, DJ Wilkins, and Garrett Sturtz all returning for their fifth season and of course the recently awarded Larry Bird trophy winner sophomore forward, Tucker DeVries. DeVries finished the season averaging the second most points in the Valley with 18.9 including shooting 38% from beyond the arc. DeVries became just the fifth Valley player ever to win the Freshman of the Year and the Player of the Year in their career. On top of being just the fifth different Bulldog ever to win the award (Adam Emmenecker 2008).
“Every game you learn something and feel more comfortable in every game,” Tucker DeVries said. “I think everything has just slowed down; I have become more consistent.”
This will mark the first time in in what has felt like an eternity for Bulldog fans that the squad has been at full health heading into the conference tournament with their star guards, Penn and Wilkins back out directing traffic for Drake.
“It feels good to do it for the last time together, but the year we both played we went to the championship, this year we have our whole group, so I feel pretty confident,” D.J. Wilkins said.
The veteran group will be a huge factor in slowing down the surging Racers. In their first year in the Valley, Prohm has Murray State playing their best ball when it matters most. On Thursday, Murray State ran Valparaiso off the court. Sitting on the sideline I could not help but be impressed by the Racers ability to move the ball with a purpose (24 assists), have a balanced attack (four players scored 13 points or more) and play with an infectious energy. To, me this appeared to be a team that wanted it more.
This will be a battle of endurance as both teams like to control and push the pace, which in my opinion favors the Bulldogs, but with all five starters averaging double-digits in points it will take a full team effort to stop Murray State from pulling off the upset. One of the key factors will come down to the big men on both teams and controlling the glass.
Darnell Brodie of Drake has been one of the Valley’s most improved players scoring 8.7 points per game (up from 5.8 points last season) and will have his hands full in the paint with the duo of Jamari Smith and DJ Burns who had a combined 27 points and 11 rebounds. Limiting second chance points is vital in coming out of the quarterfinalround unscathed as MSU hauled in 39 rebounds and nine offensive rebounds against Valpo.
This should be an offensive master class between two respected and veteran head coaches with quality squads.
“The best team steps up and the best team plays good when it matters. I love our confidence right now and I love our momentum,” Roman Penn said.