After Thursday's quarterfinal win over Northeastern State in Kansas City, Northwest Missouri State head basketball coach Ben McCollum maintained that his team's only path to an NCAA Tournament bid was to win the MIAA Tournament.
Three days later, he was proven to be correct.
Despite reaching the MIAA Tournament finals and losing in overtime to second-seeded Central Missouri by three points, the Bearcats (21-10) were not among the eight teams selected for the NCAA Central Region Tournament field late Sunday night, officially bringing their season to a close.
Northwest was one of three league schools to make a regional last year. This year’s national tournament qualifiers from the MIAA were limited to Central Missouri and Northeastern State.
The Mules (22-7) were the conference's automatic qualifier after beating Northwest 79-76 in the MIAA Tournament title game and earned the No. 4 seed. Northeastern State (19-8) qualified as an at-large and is seeded seventh.
The Riverhawks inclusion in the tournament over Northwest and MIAA co-regular season champion Fort Hays State is a bit of a head-scratcher.
Northwest won both meetings against Northeastern State, most recently in the MIAA Tournament, and finished with two more wins.
The Bearcats have bad losses to Lincoln, Missouri Western and Truman State, but NSU does as well to Nebraska-Kearney and Southwest Baptist.
Both teams won a game over Fort Hays State and lost to regional qualifier Harding (Ark.) by two points in non-conference play.
The Bearcats also beat sixth-seeded Upper Iowa, while the Riverhawks beat eighth-seeded Arkansas Tech who at the time was ranked No. 19 in the nation.
Fort Hays lost to NSU 76-61, but finished with one more league win and had no bad losses other than by three points to Pitt State. The Tigers also beat Central Missouri, something neither Northwest or NSU did.
Another MIAA power left out of the field was Washburn who finished third in the conference and began the year ranked No. 2 nationally. The Ichabods went into the MIAA Tournament ranked No. 8 in the region and lost its opening round game to sixth-seeded Central Oklahoma.
The Central Region Tournament field consists of four Northern Sun teams, two from the GAC and two from the MIAA. First round action starts Saturday at MSU-Mankato.
The opening round matchups are No. 1 MSU-Mankato/No. 8 Arkansas Tech, No. 4 Central Missouri/No. 5 Harding (Ark.), No. 3 Augustana (S.D.)/No. 6 Upper Iowa and No. 2 Winona State (Minn.)/No. 7 Northeastern State.
The NCAA Women's Central Region Tournament begins Friday and includes three teams from the MIAA—top-seeded Washburn, No. 2 seed Central Missouri and No. 8 seed Emporia State.
Washburn and ESU—the MIAA Tournament champion—meet for the third time this year in a first round game. Central Missouri drew No. 7 seed Southwestern Oklahoma.