9-23. 9-16. 6-24. 5-27. Those are the records of the UE Men’s Basketball team from the last four years; clearly, these numbers leave something to be desired. Entering this season, few students had any high expectations for the team, myself included. A narrow victory against Division III Wabash in our exhibition game did little to dispel the doubters. But then, the team roared out to a 10-2 start. The squad dominated in non-conference play, but unfortunately, they hit a bump in the road at the start of conference play. Those losses are marked by asterisks since the team played those games without leading scorer Ben Humrichous and star freshman Chuck Bailey. It certainly did not help that their earliest games were against Missouri Valley teams, who would finish near the top of the conference.

            Conference play came and went, and UE finished with a 15-16 record overall. The final seven games of regular season all resulted in losses, but most were close, with the ball only just bouncing out of UE’s favor. The first two games of that seven-game streak, UE lost on buzzer beaters from the opponents. Amazingly, they would have suffered through three straight games of the same but for the preceding game: Bradley scored a final three-point shot to send the game to overtime waved off, ultimately securing the win for Evansville before their losing streak.

            Coming into Arch Madness at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Evansville did not exactly have winning momentum in their corner, having failed to capture a game in the conference tournament since 2017. That changed as the Purple Aces captured a win in the opening round of the tournament against Illinois State. The following night, UE fell from the tournament at the hands of the Drake Bulldogs – but beating Drake was something no team managed to pull off, as they won the tournament and clinched the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The loss to Drake may have ended the conference tournament run for UE, but the Purple Aces still have more basketball to play. The team accepted a bid to the College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team postseason basketball tournament held in Daytona Beach, Florida, that begins on March 23. This appearance will mark the first postseason play for UE Basketball since 2015.

            Despite the regular season’s late collapse, it must be seen as a positive for the University of Evansville. Last season, the Purple Aces ranked 352nd out of 362 teams in the KenPom rankings, but during this campaign they reached as high as place 161. Head Coach David Ragland was awarded the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award; Ben Humrichous was named to the MVC All-Newcomer team; Chuck Bailey was named to the MVC All-Freshman and MVC All-Bench team; and Tanner Cuff slotted in alongside Bailey on the All-Bench team. These players have the opportunity to return to the team next season, along with several other rotational pieces. The only players currently on the squad who do not have the option to play next year are Gage Bobe, Kenny Strawbridge, and Antonio Thomas. With UE returning so much production, it is not crazy to say they could compete for an MVC title next season – many of the teams near the top of the conference have a large amount of roster turnover, and some teams will likely enter next year with a new head coach. A few teams have decided to move on from their current coaches – like Southern Illinois and Missouri State have – but Drake and Indiana State will likely also need to search for new coaches. Both schools’ coaches are hot commodities in searches currently being done by bigger schools. UE, however, is in a uniquely positive position that it has not found itself in for several years. Coach Ragland and the team have built something special this year and are in a prime position to keep going.

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