Missouri Southern did Northwest Missouri State's men a huge favor Monday night by knocking off Central Oklahoma in the first of two final week encounters.
Now, all the Bearcats have to do is win both of their remaining regular season games over bottom-feeders Nebraska-Kearney and Truman State to lock up a top four seed and a first round bye in the MIAA Tournament.
Northwest (17-8, 10-6) trails fourth place Northeastern State (18-7, 11-6) by a half-game and is tied with Central Oklahoma (12-12, 10-6) and Lindenwood (17-7, 10-6) for fifth.
The Bearcats own the head-to-head tiebreaker with both Oklahoma schools, and the best either one can finish is 12-6 because Central Oklahoma and NSU play each other tonight. UCO has another game left with Missouri Southern Saturday.
Lindenwood doesn't factor in to the top four conversation because it is ineligible for post-season play.
Northwest is still mathematically alive for a share of the conference title, but would need to win its last two games, have Central Missouri and Fort Hays State lose out and Washburn lose tonight at Emporia State for that to happen.
Central Missouri (18-6, 12-4) holds a two-game lead over Northwest and needs only to beat Truman State at home tonight to eliminate the Bearcats from the conference race.
Fort Hays State closes out with Missouri Western and Lincoln at home, and with wins in both, would finish ahead of Northwest as well.
The Bearcats have the best chance of finishing ahead of Washburn who has Emporia State on the road and Central Missouri at home to close the regular season.
Assuming Fort Hays State finishes first or second, Washburn would hold the tiebreaker over Northwest, and the Bearcats would then need the 'Bods to lose twice in order to pass.
A fourth place league finish makes a 4-5 matchup with either of the Oklahoma schools likely in the first round of the MIAA Tournament next week in Kansas City.
Northwest's final regular season road game tonight at Nebraska-Kearney is one the Bearcats should have no trouble with based on how the first meeting went.
Back on Dec. 8, the Bearcats dominated Nebraska-Kearney from start to finish in a 90-60 win that was and still remains their largest margin of victory this season.
Northwest shot 53 percent, made 10 three's, out-rebounded Kearney 37-27 and won the turnover battle 14-6. Four Bearcats scored in double-figures led by Grant Cozad with 17 points.
Kearney was led by Drew Sankey with 14 points, while top scorer Jon Henderson went scoreless.
The Lopers (7-17, 4-12) are playing for pride at this point, having already been eliminated from conference tournament contention.
Page 2 of 3 - Kearney is coming off a 75-70 road win over Missouri Western that ended a four-game losing skid.
Henderson (15.8 ppg) and sophomore Pierre Newton (13.2 ppg) are Kearney's two leading scorers on the year. Northwest is led by DeAngelo Hailey (13.9 ppg) and Dillon Starzl (13.6 ppg).
Winners of two straight, the Bearcats are looking to snap a three-game road losing streak.
Fighting for eighth
Northwest Missouri State's women begin the season's final week in the thick of a heated battle for eighth place, the cut-off for a home game in the first round of the MIAA Tournament.
The Bearcats (12-12, 6-10) are tied with Missouri Southern (12-12, 6-10) for ninth place and trail Missouri Western (14-10, 7-9) by a game for eighth. Lurking a half-game back of both Southern and Northwest is Southwest Baptist (11-14, 6-11).
Three of the four teams in contention for the eighth spot have at least one game left against a top seven team in the league.
The Griffons control their own destiny, but that could change after a game tonight at Fort Hays State.
They host Southwest Baptist Saturday.
Northwest plays at Nebraska-Kearney tonight and hosts Truman State Saturday. Missouri Southern is at Pittsburg State tonight and at Central Oklahoma Saturday.
The Bearcats likely need to win both games to have a shot at catching Western. They would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with both Southern and Southwest Baptist.
Northwest guaranteed itself a tournament berth and ended a five-game slide with last week's 69-58 home win over Missouri Western. One more win ensures at least an 11th place finish.
Tonight's opponent UNK (6-17, 3-13) has lost four straight, most recently to Missouri Western 71-36 in St. Joseph, and is no longer in contention for an MIAA Tournament berth.
The Bearcats beat Kearney at home 67-56 Dec. 8, but is just 1-7 on the road in league play.
None of Kearney's five starters average in double-figures, while the Bearcats have three—Maggie Marnin (11.0 ppg), Ashleigh Nelson (10.8 ppg) and Annie Mathews (10.1 ppg).
After barely missing out on a marquee early-season win against Quachita Baptist Saturday, the No. 25 Northwest Missouri State men's tennis team captured one Sunday, edging No. 17 Drury 5-4 at the Cooper Indoor Complex in Springfield.
Along with being nationally ranked, Drury is the No. 1 team in the Midwest Region and had beaten Quachita Baptist—the No. 2 team in the Central Region— 7-2 the day before. QBU was a 5-4 winner Saturday over Northwest—the No. 1 team in the Central Region.
"That's an excellent win," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Mark Rosewell. "I would think we would move up in the national rankings. We shall see."
Page 3 of 3 - Northwest (2-1) trailed Drury 2-1 after the doubles portion but took four of six singles matches.
The most pivotal was No. 38 Sergio De Vilchez's three-set triumph over No. 30 Andy Blair at No. 1.
"I looked for our four, five and six to compete well, but I think the match that turned it was No. 1 singles," said Rosewell. "Our freshman beat their senior who is very good. It was 7-6 in the third, so it could've gone either way."
Both Northwest teams will play at the indoor courts in St. Joseph this weekend against Southeastern Oklahoma and Missouri St.-Louis.