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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 13 Missouri State Bears

The Bears look like a high-major team.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Oklahoma vs. West Virginia
West Virginia transfer Lamont West bolsters the the Missouri State attack.
Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Record: 16-16 (10-8 Missouri Valley), no postseason
Key Returning Players: Keandre Cook (G, Sr.), Tulio Da Silva (F, Sr.), Kabir Mohammed (F, Sr.), Jared Ridder (F, So.)
Key Losses: Jarred Dixon, Ryan Kreklow , Obediah Church and Josh Webster (graduation); Szymon and Jan Wójcik (Northwest Florida State College)
Key Newcomers: Spencer Brown (G, Jr. via. Lyon College), Tyrik Dixon (G, Jr., via Middle Tennessee State), Josh Hall (G, Jr., via Nevada), Lamont West (F, Sr., via West Virginia),

In one short year, Dana Ford has lifted Missouri State from an average program with some history to not only the talk of the Missouri Valley Conference, but also a team to be reckoned with nationally.

The former Tennessee State coach has attracted talent and built a dynamic schedule in such a way that makes expectations on this year’s team sky high.

Ford says blending all the incoming talent with his hold overs won’t be a problem.

“We have a program and we have certain standards that you have to fit into,” Ford said. “That takes care of a lot of it. The common denominator is they all want to win and are willing to do whatever it takes to win.”

Key Non-Conference Games

Ford is committed to making Missouri State into a mid-major power, and his schedule looks like that of a high major. After working with Dan Muller at Illinois State and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State, he knows teams have to schedule well to get noticed.

After opening the season with three easier opponents the Bears play one of the most difficult stretches any mid-major could encounter. They play Xavier on the road and then enter the Charleston Classic where they battle the ACC’s Miami and then either the SEC’s Florida or Saint. Joseph’s. A third round game will feature a worthy opponent and could even be Xavier again.

Then the Bears travel to Baton Rouge to take on LSU before coming home to face the Ohio Valley defending co-champion Murray State Racers. Before they head into Missouri Valley play, the Bears travel to VCU and Oral Roberts.

There are five games they have no business losing and then eight dogfights in their non-conference schedule. Ford has created this gauntlet to prepare for conference play and to prove his team is knocking on that high major door.

Nov. 15 at Xavier
Nov. 21 vs. Miami (FL) (Charleston Classic)
Nov. 29 @ LSU
Dec. 3 vs. Murray State
Dec. 15 @ VCU

Three things to watch

Missouri State’s veteran talent

All-Valley forward Tulio Da Silva flirted with the NBA Draft but has returned to Springfield, Missouri. The 6’8 senior was the top newcomer in the MVC while averaging 14.3 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Bears last season. Additionally, he has international experience with Brazil’s national teams that has prepared him well.

Da Silva scores well in traffic and buried 37% of his three-point attempts. He is a versatile weapon.

Fellow senior Keandre Cook was an all-Valley third team honoree and a member of the league’s all-newcomer team. The one-time Odessa College transfer averaged 12.8 points per game while grabbing 4.3 rebounds. At 6’5 he works well down low, forcing teams to foul him (he made 93 free throws) and connected on 37% of his shots from deep.

How will the transfers fit into the rotation?

Last year’s sitting transfers Tyrik Dixon and Josh Hall bring outstanding credentials to this year’s Valley favorites. Dixon ran the point at Middle Tennessee where he was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team (2017) and the all-defensive team (2018). The 6’1 junior reached the 100 assist mark during both of his Blue Raider seasons.

Hall was a part of Nevada’s run to the 2017-18 Sweet Sixteen. He averaged 6.9 points per game and hit the game winning shot to edge Cincinnati in Nevada’s 21-point comeback.

Graduate transfer Lamont West might be the best player on this list of veterans. The West Virginia transfer averaged 11.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while banging bodies in the Big Ten. ESPN rated the 6’8 West as college basketball’s eighth-best transfer.

Ford also added 6’8 Gaige Prim. This junior college all-American was tenth nationally in scoring and rated him the second best junior college player in the country.

Ford says Prim is a throwback kind of player.

“He’s an old school big man,” Ford said. “He never shies away from the physical moment. He has really good hands and finishes around the rim. What I love about him is that he is a great free throw shooter, so you can’t just foul him.”

The new additions will actually enhance Da Silva’s game.

“Tulio benefits a lot,” Ford said. “He won’t have to bang on the other team’s five-man for 40 minutes, and he’ll be guarded by people with his same body type. We also won’t have to play him 35 minutes a game.”

The Youngsters

Ford loves to recruit within a 300-mile radius of his campus and he landed some stars in his sphere of influence.

Isiaih Mosely and Ja’Monta Black were teammates for Columbia (Missouri) Rock Bridge’s state champion team. Mosely is a four-star recruit who averaged 23 points per game and was named Mr. Show-Me Basketball. Black was the team captain and averaged 15.2 points per game. They are both taller than 6’3 and can score in a variety of ways.

In Ford’s Springfield neighborhood, he landed three-star recruit Tyem Freeman. The 6’5, 213 wing was rated just below Mosely as a top 60 small forward nationally.

Perhaps the gem of this class is Ford Cooper Jr.. This four-star recruit reclassified to join the Bears this season. The 6’3 Charlotte, North Carolina native gives the Bears depth and talent at the point.

The freshmen have arrived with the proper attitude. Ford says they have come in with a “teach me how to do it”-esque mentality.

X Factor

The other returners

Kabir Mohammed and Jared Ridder each averaged over five points per game. Ridder was a three-star recruit who originally signed with Xavier, but wanted to play closer to his Springfield home and had to sit the first semester last season. He was Missouri’s 2017 Mr. Show-Me Basketball.

Ridder struggled a bit during his first collegiate season, but Ford is bullish on the 6’8 sophomore.

“He is a great weapon for us,” said Ford. “He is a lethal shooter. We have put in a package for him, because he is a game-changing shooter.”