Bradley (7-24) vs. Drake (16-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 1st, 9:35 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Scottrade Center (19,150) -- St. Louis, Missouri. Television: FSN-MW, IN, KC, CSN-CHI. Home Record: Bradley 6-10, Drake 12-3. Away Record: Bradley 1-11, Drake 3-9. Neutral Record: Bradley 0-2, Drake 1-2. Conference Record: Bradley 2-16, Drake 9-9. Series Record: Bradley leads, 79-55.
GAME NOTES: The 10th-seeded Bradley Braves will take on the seventh-seeded Drake Bulldogs in the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament tonight, with the winner facing No. 2 Creighton in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Bradley gets a crack at postseason play despite finishing in last place in the MVC with a 7-24 overall record and a 2-16 mark in conference. The team has struggled right up to the end, losing five straight games and 11 of its last 12. This bout marks a rematch of last year's first round game, which the Braves won in a 63-48 final.
Drake posted a 16-14 overall record and earned its second-highest regular- season finish in the MVC in 26 years, tying four other teams for third place with a 9-9 league ledger. However, through an elaborate series of tie-breakers in which the Bulldogs went 3-5 against those four teams and 0-2 against Missouri State, they earned the seventh-seed and lost out on a first-round bye. They won three of their last five to close out the regular season, but most recently lost to nationally-ranked Wichita State on Saturday, 81-58.
Bradley leads the all-time series with Drake, 79-55, but the Bulldogs swept the season series this year for the first time since 2004-05.
Bradley boasts the MVC's worst offense, as it ranks last in both scoring (61.5 ppg) and field goal percentage (.402). The shooting attack has been even worse of late, as the Braves have scored less than that average each time out during their current five-game losing streak (52.0 ppg). Taylor Brown had been one of the lone bright spots for the club (14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg), until he went down with a torn ligament in his right big toe on February 15. Brown's season was still good enough for him to be named All-MVC Honorable Mention. Walt Lemon Jr. was voted to the MVC's Most-Improved team after averaging 12.5 ppg, more than double his average from the previous season as a freshman (6.4 ppg). Lemon Jr. has been even better in a reserve role, averaging 17.6 ppg in seven games since moving to the bench.
Drake has a slightly above-average scoring offense (67.2 ppg), but it has two of the MVC's top scorers on its side. Rayvonte Rice ranks third with 16.6 ppg and Ben Simons isn't far off that pace, checking in fourth at 16.2 ppg -- making Drake the first MVC team with two players to finish in the top four in scoring since the 2003-04 campaign. The duo was honored by being named to the All-MVC Second Team -- the first all-conference selection for either player. Rice's scoring average in the highest by a Bulldog in the past 11 seasons. Drake plays solid defense as well, ranking fourth in the MVC in field goal percentage defense (.428), first in three-point percentage defense (.412) and third in steals (7.0 spg). Its strength does not lie on the glass however, as it possesses a rebounding margin of -1.9 (third-worst in the conference).
Bradley has been hapless for much of the year, and if Brown cannot go yet again, its offense becomes even easier to shut down. Drake has come on late this year and has proven its dominance over the Braves this season, which should continue and lead them into the quarterfinals.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Drake 72, Bradley 57
03/01 10:33:41 ET
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