Bradley is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and the Braves face a tough challenge right off the bat.
Assigned a No. 15 seed, Bradley (20-14) will travel to Des Moines on Thursday to play No. 6 Michigan State, the Big Ten tournament champion and No. 2 East Regional seed.
Pairings for the 68-team tournament were announced during a Selection Sunday show and viewed locally at the Renaissance Coliseum as Bradley fans gathered with the team and fourth-year head coach Brian Wardle and his staff.
The Braves, the only Missouri Valley team to make the tournament, can perhaps can gain some inspiration from fellow MVC member Loyola.
Last year, the Ramblers drew a No. 11 seed and embarked on a Cinderella run to the Final Four before being ousted by Michigan State.
Loyola shared the 2018-19 regular season title with Drake while Bradley tied for fifth with a 9-9 record. But the Braves got hot at the right time and denied the Ramblers a return NCAA trip with a 53-51 victory in MVC tournament semi finals.
The Braves went on to beat Northern Iowa 57-54 to win the Valley tourney and earn the automatic NCAA berth.
The NCAA appearance is the program’s ninth overall and first since a run to the Sweet 16 in 2006 under head coach Jim Les. That was also Bradley’s deepest run since 1955.
Bradley’s return to the NCAA is the biggest step in the program’s revival since Wardle arrived from Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2015-16 and replaced Geno Ford, who went 46-86 over four seasons.
It was a tough stretch for a school and Bradley faithful accustomed to hardwood success.
The Braves were frequently in the post season until recent years, with Final Four appearances in 1950 and 1954. They reached the National Invitation Tournament 21 times — including years when that tournament overshadowed the NCAA — and own four championships.
According to NCAA records, Bradley’s 1,649 wins through the 2017-18 season is 35th among Division I teams.