Root for Drury

The Great Lakes Valley Conference will be well represented Sunday when Drury takes on Metro State for the NCAA Division II national championship in men’s basketball in Atlanta. Tipoff will be 3 p.m. on CBS. Of course, the GLVC has made it a point to hail this game, as it should. Here are some of the notes about the game that the conference office sent out:

– A win on Sunday in the NCAA Division II National Championship game would not only give Drury its first-ever national title, but would also give the GLVC its seventh NCAA crown in men’s basketball since the conference’s inception in 1978. Kentucky Wesleyan has four national titles under the GLVC umbrella, having won in 1987, 1990, 1999 and 2001. THe University of Southern Indiana claimed the 1995 championship, while Bellarmine earned the 2011 title.

– Over the past three years, there has been just one constant found in NCAA Division II national semifinal competition: the GLVC. Since 2011, the conference has been the only league to advance a team to the national semifinals, as Bellarmine was one of four teams remaining in 2011 and 2012, while Drury secured its berth in the national semifinals after an Elite Eight win over South Carolina Aiken. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference (Western Washington – 2012, 2013) and the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (West Liberty – 2011, 2013) rank second over the same three-year span.

– When Drury defeated Bellarmine 67-61 to win the NCAA Midwest Region championship, the Panthers became the third different GLVC squad to compete in the NCAA Elite Eight in the last four years. Saint Joseph’s advanced to the 2010 Elite Eight, while Bellarmine made back-to-back trips in 2011 and 2012.

– In the 35 years that GLVC men’s basketball (1978-2013) has existed, the conference has earned 25 NCAA regional championships, including Drury’s 2013 crown. Of those 25  titles, nine member schools have captured at least one, led by Kentucky Wesleyan’s 13 in the GLVC. Two of the Panthers’ regional crowns were later vacated, but KWC holds a commanding lead over the rest of the conference. Southern Indiana owns three regional titles, followed by Bellarmine (2), Northern Kentucky (2), Saint Joseph’s (2), Ashland (1), Drury (1) and SIU Edwardsville (1).

– One more note, which I dug up: Drury hasn’t lost since falling 72-69 at the University of Indianapolis on Jan. 10. So it’s been almost three months since the Panthers have lost. They’ve won 20 22 in a row over that period, an incredible winning streak made even more amazing by the fact that the first 18 of those wins were over GLVC teams.

So root for Drury on Sunday. Not only are Alex Hall and Brandon Lockhart two of the best players in the Division II firmament, they also seem to be decent people. They both seemed kind of amazed and somewhat dazed when they played here and won the GLVC Tournament championship. But they knew exactly what they had to do to win, then went out and did it. Hall has to be one of the best 3-point shooters I’ve ever seen. His ability to find even the tiniest sliver of an opening for a shot and then hit that shot is incredible. It was the first time I had seen him play this year (I saw him play against USI twice two years ago, but he seemed liked just another good long-range shooter then). But I knew — and I said it out loud — that after the long baseball pass that USI’s Keith DeWitt barely tossed out of the reach of teammate Kenyon Smith, Hall would come right back and bury a 3-pointer. Then he did just that, putting Drury ahead for good in that GLVC title game.

If nothing else, root for Dury just because it’s from the GLVC. It’s the best D-II conference in the country, and anything that increases the respect for it helps all the other teams in the league. Now, if the NCAA could just loosen up and start placing GLVC teams in other regionals, we’d see for sure how great a conference it is. I guarantee you that, in most years, more than one league school would reach the Elite Eight.

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