Don’t sleep on the Drake Bulldogs this season. Drake is finally getting some respect, and is currently ranked #25 in the AP Top 25 College Basketball Poll after starting the season with a perfect 17-0 record. For the first time since 2008, Drake earned a spot in the top 25.

ShanQuan Hemphill Drake college basketball MVC
Drake forward ShanQuan Hemphill drives for a layup during a victory against Illinois State to keep their winning streak alive at 17-0. (Image: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Aside from Gonzaga, who is also 17-0, there are no other undefeated teams in the top 25 aside from Drake. Teams like Drake that play in mid-major conferences, like the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), are screwed by a system that favors big schools from the power conferences, like the Big Ten.

Drake, the top team in the MVC, doesn’t garner the same attention as other teams in their state, such as Iowa in the Big Ten, and Iowa State in the Big 12.

  • Drake (#25) 17-0
  • Iowa (#8) 12-4
  • Iowa State 2-10

The Iowa State Cyclones are the bottom feeders of the Big 12 with a 2-10 record. But, Iowa (12-4) gets a lot of love with a #8 ranking, despite four losses. Iowa is one of three Big Ten teams in the top eight, and three teams from the Big 12 are in the top nine.

Last week, Drake bubbled the top 25 poll, finishing 27th overall with 75 votes. This week, Drake finally got the well-deserved nod from voters.

Drake won their only scheduled game against a Big 12 school when they knocked off Kansas State in the season opener

17-0 Hot Streak

Darian DeVries helped turn Drake around, but the squad has yet to earn a trip to March Madness since he took over in 2018. DeVries went 24-10 in his first season and won MVC coach of the year. He had a slight regression in his second season at (20-14), but still won 20 games. Overall, he’s 61-24 as a head coach.

Drake almost got caught sleepwalking on Sunday. They faced Illinois State, who didn’t pose much of a challenge at 5-11. Drake’s outside shooters went on a cold streak with an ugly 4-for-30 clip (13.3%) from 3-point range. Illinois State unleashed a late rally in the second half to force overtime. Darryl Brodie, who averages 7.5 ppg, led Drake with 20 points. The Bulldogs held on to win 78-76 in overtime, but knew they dodged a big bullet.

In the rematch 24 hours later, Drake put the clampdown on Illinois State with a 35-point blowout, 95-60. Drake’s snipers shot nearly 42% from 3-point land on a 13-for-31 clip. Tremell Murphy, a 6-foot-6 senior swingman, shot 6-for-10 from downtown and led all scorers with 30 points, despite averaging only 9.2 ppg this season.

“Murp was on fire,” said DeVries. “We feel like he’s been pretty solid all year, he just hasn’t had that breakout game yet. That’s just another dimension, especially shooting it. To his credit, he’s continued to really work at it.”

DeVries isn’t shy about using his bench, and his team likes to spread the ball around. Seven different players led the team in scoring during their first 16 games. Senior forward ShanQuan Hemphill is the Bulldogs’ best scorer, averaging 14.4 ppg, followed by point guard Roman Penn (12.5 ppg, 5.5 assists).

Drake Lost to UCLA in 1969 Final Four

The 2020-21 squad is Drake’s best team since 2008, when Keno Davis led #14 Drake to a 28-5 record. Drake earned a #5 seed in March Madness, but was upset in the opening round by #12 Western Kentucky during a 101-99 overtime thriller.

College hoops at Drake reached its zenith under head coach Maury John during the glory day in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Bulldogs made three consecutive appearances in the Sweet 16 between 1969 and 1971.

The 1968-69 team went 26-5 and won the Missouri Valley Conference title, edging out Louisville. The ’69 Bulldogs finished with a #11 ranking and were led by Willie McCarter and Willie Wise, Drake’s two best scorers; they would both become future NBA players.

Drake advanced to the 1969 Final Four and almost pulled off the upset of the century. They lost to #1 ranked UCLA, led by Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), in the semifinals, but they gave UCLA a close sweat. Drake’s magical season ended against a team that would eventually win the championship. During that era, UCLA won seven-straight NCAA titles under legendary head coach John Wooden, aka the Wizard of Westwood.

The 1970 and 1971 Drake squads both lost in the Sweet 16, including a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame in the 1971 March Madness tournament.

On Deck: Valpo, NIU, Loyola Chicago

With three games against losing teams on the schedule, Drake should improve to 20-0 by this time next week.

Drake faces Valparaiso (6-11) at Valpo for back-to-back games this weekend. Next Wednesday, they host Northern Iowa (5-11).

Next weekend, Drake faces their toughest test of the season against MVC rival Loyola Chicago (15-3). Loyola visits Drake for a two-game homestand. If Drake holds off Loyola in both games, they’ll improve to 22-0 and, hopefully, impress the AP Top 25 voters enough to garner a spot in the Top 15.