*This story was originally published on CollegeInsider.com
Even as Dana Ford stews over the previous night’s frustrating loss to Northern Iowa, he admits, “It could be worse.” Yeah, you don’t have to tell Missouri State fans twice.
Since advancing to the Sweet 16 in 1999, the Bears have not returned to the NCAA Tournament as the program has dwindled from a mid-major blueblood into college hoops obscurity.
Now Ford, Missouri State’s first-year coach, has the Bears fighting for a conference title at 10-7 in the MVC and 16-14 overall, one game behind Loyola Chicago and Drake. Although they’re practically the prototype of an average team, ranking No. 163 out of 353 Division I teams in KenPom, the conference title hunt has helped the fanbase in Springfield, Missouri, forget — at least temporarily — the disappointment of the last 20 years.