The best basketball program in Iowa doesn't play in the Big Ten or Big 12 and has not reached the NCAA tournament in 36 years. But after seven straight victories over Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, Drake is now the king of the Hawkeye state.
Drake is 9-1 after its landmark 56-51 victory over Iowa, its first in Iowa City since 1967. The victory also gave Drake a sweep of Iowa and Iowa State for the second consecutive season.
"To get a win like that in a Big Ten arena, it is something that will help our program," said Drake coach Keno Davis. "It helped us last year when we won at Iowa State. To go on the road and win, you know you've accomplished something."
For Davis, the win was particularly meaningful. Davis moved to Iowa City in eighth grade when his father, Dr.Tom Davis, was hired to coach the Hawkeyes. In 1995, he earned his undergrad degree there after helping his father as an undergraduate assistant for four years. Though the Tom Davis-era ended when he was replaced by Steve Alford in 1999, Keno holds no ill-will toward the school.
"Every time we've gone there, it is a very special place," Keno said.
Tom Davis came out of retirement to coach the Bulldogs in 2003, with an agreement Keno would take over when he stepped down. Last season, Tom Davis led Drake its first winning record in 20 years, retired and gave Keno his first head-coaching opportunity.
Despite losing four starters from last year's 17-15 team, Drake has equaled its best start in school history. The lone blemish is a 72-66 loss to St. Mary's, a team that cracked the AP top 25 two weeks ago. Drake relies heavily on the three-point shot, the Bulldogs are 10th in the nation in three-pointers made per game (10) and their top three scorers (Josh Young, Leonard Houston and Jonathan Cox) are all shooting more than 43 percent from three.
"We can put a lot of pressure on opponents who'll have to come out and guard us when we can put four or five shooters out there," Davis said. "Instead of an inside-out team, we're reversed. We'll spread you out and try to make you guard us from the three-point line, and when you do, we'll take it to the basket or post up."
Drake has not made the NCAA tournament since a three-year run from 1969-71, when the Bulldogs reached the Final Four, the Elite Eight and the Elite Eight. Last season, a 9-2 start was wasted as Drake lost 13 of its final 21 games. Davis is well aware of those struggles and knows a tough Missouri Valley Conference schedule lies ahead.
"[Our players] are loose and we treasure our underdog role," Davis said. "I know we will still have it going into the conference season."
After holding the lead down the stretch, Georgia Southern saw its seven-game winning streak end at the hands of Florida last week when Willie Powers' potential game-tying three-pointer was blocked in the final seconds by Florida's Dan Werner. Powers, a freshman from Gainesville, Fla., scored 17 points in his homecoming to lead Georgia Southern.
The Eagles are coming off an 11-20 season and appear set up to compete in the Southern Conference, despite Davidson being the clear favorite. Georgia Southern has a chance to be among the leaders with a deep roster that features 10 players averaging at least nine minutes per game. Powers has had an immediate impact, leading the team with 14 points per game.
UC-Santa Barbara has done nothing to dispel the notion that it is the favorite in the Big West as the Gauchos are off to a 10-1 start, with their lone loss coming at Stanford. Senior guard Alex Harris leads the team with 23.6 points per game and is shooting 50 percent from three-point range.
The Gauchos face a tough test Saturday as they travel to Chapel Hill to take on top-ranked North Carolina.
Guard Demetric Bennett has put up solid numbers for emerging South Alabama, leading the team with 20.2 points per game as the Jaguars are off to a 7-3 start. But it is his three games against Southeastern Conference competition that stand out.
Against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, Bennett is averaging 30.7 points. Bennett's best game was his last -- a 39-point, 8-rebound effort in a 71-67 win over Mississippi State.
The members of the Winless Watch dropped to four last week after Canisius pounded Coastal Carolina 88-62 behind a career-high 25 points from Pawel Malesa. Those still seeking their first win: Ball State, Furman, Grambling and New Jersey Institute of Technology.