The national spotlight is shining on Drake for the first time in ages and first-year coach Keno Davis isn't complaining.
"We'll take any publicity we can get,' Davis said. "We haven't had a whole lot of publicity in recent years."
The Bulldogs have been solidly in college basketball's background for the better part of three decades and haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1971. When they cracked the Associated Press' top 25 this week, it marked the first time they had been in the polls since 1975.
Yet, it is hard to ignore Drake now as it is 17-1 overall and holds a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bulldogs, who returned only one starter from last season, have won a school-record 16 straight games since losing at Saint Mary's on Nov. 10.
"It's been an exciting time for our program," Davis said. "We've put a lot of hard work in and it's great to see it paying off."
Davis spent the previous four years as Drake's top assistant under his father, Dr. Tom Davis, who made his name in the coaching business at Lafayette, Boston College, Stanford and Iowa before coming to Des Moines in 2003 after a four-year break.
When the elder Davis decided to step down at the end of last season and assume a role as a special assistant to the athletic director, Keno Davis was the logical successor for the head coaching position. The younger Davis has taken Drake to another level after his father quietly rebuilt the program into contender status in the MVC.
"My father did a really great job," Keno Davis said. "He felt he still had something left as a coach and he was really excited to come to a school where the academics standards are high, because he had a lot of experience in those situations.
"He felt very strongly that Drake could have success and he put this program back on the right track. I've just tried to continue doing what my father started."
Drake is not exactly a destination for top 100-type recruits. Thus, the Bulldogs have built their team around a group of overachievers, a collection that has risen to No. 22 in the Pomeroy Rankings.
"We have a lot of kids who were under-recruited," Davis said. "For whatever reasons, they didn't get a lot of interest in high school, whether they were overlooked or late bloomers or whatever. But they are good kids, really hard-working kids who have gotten better and better, and are showing they can play with anybody."
The epitome of a Drake player is senior point guard Adam Emmenecker, who is averaging a team-high 5.3 assists to go with averages of 6.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He is also second in the nation in free-throw rate at 115.1
Emmenecker spent three years as a walk-on before being put on scholarship two days before fall semester classes started. He was noted more for his baseball-playing ability during his high-school days in Saginaw, Mich., and did not receive any Division I basketball interest beyond Drake offering a the walk-on opportunity.
"He's a smart player and he gets the most out of his ability," Davis said. "He's a kid who has worked so hard for everything he has gotten in his career here. He's a great story."
Emmenecker has been adroitly getting the ball to three players scoring in double figures: sophomore guard Josh Young (15.7 ppg), senior guard Leonard Houston (14.7) and junior forward Jonathan Cox (11.8), who was a walk-on the last two years before earning a scholarship this season.
Young returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing three games with a sprained ankle, and hit the game-winning three-pointer in overtime at Creighton. Cox is averaging 8.6 rebounds and is 20th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage (26.5).
Drake has also been outstanding at both ends of the court, ranking 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency (89.1) and 30th in adjusted offensive efficiency (114.0). The Bulldogs are also sixth in the nation in defensive turnover percentage (26.6).
Drake holds a two-game lead on Illinois State (6-2) in the MVC while Creighton and Indiana State are both 5-3.
"Drake has just a real solid team and they do everything well," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "They've clearly been the best team in our conference to this point."
Change in Corvallis
Oregon's State Jay John became the first coach at one of the power conferences to be fired this season when he was jettisoned last weekend.
John, in his sixth season, was 72-97 during his time with the Beavers and just 28-68 in the Pacific 10. The Beavers were 6-12 overall and 0-6 in the conference this season when he was fired.
"I would say it was a tough decision to make, particularly since you've got a guy that is a good guy, No. 1, and a guy that truly cared about trying to turn this program around," Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis said. "He worked his tail off in order to try and do that. Sometimes things just don't work out, and that's the case here."
Assistant coach Kevin Mouton was promoted to interim head coach and didn't make a good opening case for getting the job on a permanent basis as Oregon State was blasted at home 68-44 by Southern California on Thursday night.
Oregon State stands 182nd in the Pomeroy Rankings and is 262nd in adjusted offensive efficiency (95.1) and 102nd in adjusted defensive efficiency (96.4).
Two names that have come up in early speculation about a permanent replacement are Saint Mary's Randy Bennett and Nevada's Mark Fox. Another name to keep in mind is Mike Montgomery, former coach at Stanford and with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.
Tennessee suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday night when it fell at Kentucky, but it certainly wasn't senior guard Chris Lofton's fault as he scored 22 points and made five three-point field goals for the Volunteers.
Lofton became the leading three-point shooter in Southeastern Conference history as he raised his career total to 367, breaking the record set by Arkansas' Pat Bradley from 1996-99.
Lofton broke the record in his final visit to Rupp Arena in Lexington, where he became a high school legend while scoring 39 points and knocking down nine three-pointers to lead Mason County to victory over Louisville Ballard in the 2003 state championship game. Lofton grew up an hour away in Maysville, Ky.
Lofton has scored 70 points and connected on 17 of 29 threes in his three games for Tennessee at Rupp Arena.
"It's great to have the record but a win would have been better," Lofton said.
Team to Watch
This week's Team To Watch is Arizona, which looks ready to make a move in the Pacific 10 following a 76-64 upset of Washington State on Thursday night. While Arizona is not receiving votes in The AP poll, it is No. 18 in the Pomeroy rankings.
Thursday's win raised the Wildcats' record to 13-5 overall and 3-3 in the conference, where they are tied for fifth in the bunched-up standings with USC and Washington while trailing UCLA (5-1) and Arizona State, Stanford and Washington State, who are all 4-2.
Arizona has a chance to make a move as it hosts Washington on Saturday then makes a Los Angeles swing next week to play USC on Thursday and UCLA on Saturday.
Arizona has a young nucleus with freshman guard Jerryd Bayless, who had 23 points and six assists against Washington State, leading the way along with sophomore forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill.
Bayliss is scoring 19.2 points a game. Budinger is averaging 17.1 points and 5.6 rebounds. Hill has averages of 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds while standing 31st in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 63.8.
Games of the Week
The top five games of the week from Jan. 25-31, according to the Pomeroy Ratings. All times Eastern:
No. 30 Gonzaga at No. 2 Memphis, Saturday, Jan. 26, 12 p.m., ESPN
No. 8 Georgetown at No. 6 West Virginia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 1 Kansas at No. 13 Kansas State, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 8 p.m., ESPN Full Court
No. 5 Wisconsin at No. 12 Indiana, Thursday, Jan. 31, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 37 Arizona State at No. 4 UCLA, Thursday, Jan. 31, 10:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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