Here’s the latest Associated Press top-25. Let’s go down the list, looking for the 13-0 team that has won its games by an average of 24 points. Nope, no Drake.
How about the coaches’ poll? Looking... looking... nah.
The roster of best records in the nation? Bingo. Right at the top.
It would seem the moment has come to pay attention to the Bulldogs. Here are 19 things to know about Drake.
The Bulldogs became the first team in the country to hit 13-0 Monday, with 12 of the victories coming by double figures. They’ve never been 13-0 in their history. None of the other eight remaining unbeatens have won more than 10.
They started the season with an 80-70 victory at Kansas State, where they hadn’t won since 1923.
They just took on a 7-1 Southern Illinois team in a two-game set, and won by 18 and 31 points. The 86-55 thrashing Monday was Drake’s largest winning margin in the Missouri Valley Conference in 27 years.
Their leading scorer and rebounder last season was 7-footer Liam Robbins, who just the other night went for 27 points and 14 rebounds in a game. Oh, did we mention Robbins did that for Minnesota? Drake is on a roll despite the transfer of last season’s aircraft carrier.
But there are new faces, too. Green Bay graduate transfer ShanQuan Hemphill leads the team in scoring, and pyrotechnics. He was second in the high jump in the state of Indiana as a high school senior, clearing 6-11. Seton Hall transfer Darnell Brodie is the top rebounder.
The Bulldogs were picked to finish seventh in the MVC. They’re already 4-0 in the league.
Depth is a major Drake weapon. Hemphill is the only player averaging more than 25 minutes a game. Seven different Bulldogs have at least shared the team scoring lead in a win. The Drake bench has outscored the opponent's reserves 418-205. In the second game against Southern Illinois, the gap was 47-17. At Kansas State, it was 37-15.
Experience is another plus. The starting lineup includes Hemphill, redshirt senior Tremell Murphy, redshirt junior Roman Penn and juniors D.J. Wilkins and Brodie. The same five have started all 13 games. It’s been a journey for that lineup. Murphy played only five games last season because of a knee injury. Hemphill, at Green Bay, played but one for the same reason. Brodie played only three games at Seton Hall, in part due to a hand injury and mononucleosis. So three of Drake’s current five starters were only on the floor for a combined 115 minutes last season.
The Bulldogs can shoot. Their 53.5 field goal percentage is fifth-best in the nation, and they’re third in 3-point shooting. They’re also in the top 20 in scoring defense and rebound margin.
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The director of all this is Darian DeVries, who has already won 57 games in his third season as coach. He was a high school legend 100 miles up the road in a 470-acre Iowa town called Aplington, then played 108 games and scored 1084 points at Northern Iowa, where he majored in elementary education. Instead of teaching second-graders, he ended up on the Creighton coaching staff for two decades before getting his shot at Drake. The 44 wins his first two seasons were the most of any Division I program in the state of Iowa, or the Missouri Valley Conference. It was also the best two-year start for a Drake coach in nearly 70 years.
An NCAA Tournament bid would be a very, very big deal. The Bulldogs have appeared once in 49 years, and that was 2008.
Drake had one big splash of national prominence. The Bulldogs were in the Final Four in 1969 and nearly shocked the world, taking UCLA and Lew Alcindor to the wire before losing 85-82. The Bruins were considered invincible; they won their regional title game by 38 points and the national championship by 20. Drake was back in the Elite Eight in 1970 and ’71. Then March went dark for decades.
Drake is in Des Moines. Four of the five starters and one of the top reserves all grew up within four miles of one another — and 350 miles away from campus. They come from the northwest corner of Indiana and an adjacent Illinois county nicknamed the Region. As kids, Hemphill and Wilkins would spend overnights together at Wilkins’ grandmother. The five Regioneers are supplying 59.4 percent of the points, 50.8 percent of the rebounds and 68.8 percent of the assists. Back in the dreamy 1969 season, two Drake team captains also came from the Region.
It was only four years ago that the Bulldogs had just gone 14-48 over two seasons.
They’ve broken 80 points nine times. It’s an important number. They’re 25-0 under DeVries when scoring 80.
They’ve won 23 consecutive home non-conference games.
They’re averaging 44 points a game, just in the paint, or 20.6 more than their opponents.
If only the local fans could see all this in person. Because of COVID restrictions, the largest home crowd has been 521.
Drake did not get a single vote in the AP poll until the sixth week. By then, 63 other teams had been named in a ballot. This week, the Bulldogs are 34th. By next poll, if they sweep Loyola Chicago over the weekend, they’ll be 15-0. They haven’t been ranked in 13 years. It might be time.