DES MOINES, Iowa — Last season was a landmark year for basketball in the state of Iowa, as three Division I teams reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
Drake is hoping to crash that party soon.
The Bulldogs, who've been to the NCAA Tournament just once since 1971, are optimistic it can inch closer to postseason play in 2015-16.
The "Big Dance" might be a stretch. But a run at .500 after two losing seasons under third-year coach Ray Giacoletti — even with 10 underclassmen on the roster — is certainly a possibility.
Drake, which went 9-22 last year, opens at Tulane on Nov. 16.
"I think right now, we make a huge jump in year three. And then, moving into year four, we can start talking about getting into the upper third (of the Missouri Valley Conference)," Giacoletti said. "You do that, you give yourself a chance to compete for championships."
Many program turnarounds are keyed by a breakout star — and often one that the bigger schools overlooked.
Drake just might have found that guy in sophomore guard Reed Timmer.
Timmer is exactly the kind of player Giacoletti hopes to build his teams at Drake with; a prolific Midwestern high school player undervalued by high-major programs.
Timmer, who scored over 2,000 points for Eisenhower High in New Berlin, Wisconsin, was one of just 15 freshmen nationally with at least 11 points and 2.5 assists per game a year ago. He also averaged 15.6 points in his last 10 games, including a 25-point outburst at Southern Illinois.
Timmer will be joined in the backcourt by Penn State transfer Graham Woodward, sophomores C.J. Rivers and Ore Arogundade and Karl Madison, the only senior on the roster.
"Last year...coach (Giacoletti) was telling me, 'Get your feet wet. Get your experience. Not much is expected,'" Timmer said. "But now it's come full circle and you realize this team has the capability of making a huge step."
Drake doesn't have a ton of depth in the frontcourt. It's an issue Giacoletti attempted to fix by signing four freshmen big men — though he'd like to redshirt as many of those players as he can so they can build up their bodies.
That's why the Bulldogs will be asking for a lot from Jacob Enevold and Kale Abrahamson.
Enevold, a 7-foot center from Denmark, averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds and made the Valley's All-Improved team a year ago. Size was an issue for the Dane early in his career, but he's up to nearly 250 pounds.
Abrahamson, a 6-foot-8 forward from nearby West Des Moines Valley High, scored 4.9 points per game for the Wildcats before choosing to transfer closer to home.
Polish freshman Dominik Olejniczak, who is 7-foot and 230 pounds, might have a chance to help this year as well if he continues to improve.
"I think you will see a huge jump with this team. Just talent level alone," Giacoletti said. "Selfishly, I hope we're pretty darn good out of the gate."