Before the season began, Bearcat basketball had a hunch that history was going to be made.
After a Sweet 16 exit in Northwest’s 2016 championship run, senior Zach Schneider tweeted that he was “positive” in securing home court advantage for the 2017 Central Region Tournament.
Whispers around Northwest surfaced that Augustana coach Tom Billeter had passed the national championship gauntlet to Northwest coach Ben McCollum. Rumors surfaced that Billeter texted McCollum after the Bearcats’ 2016 exit (courtesy of Augustana) that next year’s championship crown would be theirs.
Northwest knew it had all of its key players returning for the 2017 campaign, and a title run was imminent.
The story began Nov. 11 with a 32-point shelling of Upper Iowa. The Peacocks possessed talent, exemplified by meeting the No. 1 Bearcats down the road in a first round matchup of the always-unpredictable NCAA Division II March Madness tournament.
In six short days, Northwest made an early statement not only to the MIAA, but to every team across the country.
The Bearcats delivered a convincing 82-71 victory over defending national champions Augustana. Three games into the season and thoughts of making program history were already coming to life.
Northwest ripped through its regular season schedule with a 45-point victory in mid-December, a 33-point New Year’s Eve win and three 20-point plus victories in January.
The Bearcats’ perfect season and 28-straight MIAA wins came to a halt February 18 in a 88-71 humbling loss to Missouri Southern.
A defeat that stung in the moment proved to be only a small hiccup in the grand scheme of something much bigger.
After closing out a storied 27-1 regular season, Northwest battled through the conference tournament and clinched its second straight MIAA tournament title at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City.
The next stop for Northwest resided in it’s own backyard: Bearcat Arena. Schneider's twitter prediction had come true and a quest for the program’s first national title had its first real fire.
With a 34-home win streak on the line, Northwest showed no signs of slowing down, sweeping through the Central Region in front of three rambunctious crowd settings, including a sellout crowd in the Sweet 16 win over No. 18 Southwest Minnesota State.
Three games separated the Bearcats and national glory. The result of the three games was never in doubt, and by the final buzzer of the Bearcats’ season, Northwest had hoisted its first basketball national title.
What made this super team into the Division II top dog was the result of every athlete buying into his individual role.
Though the Bearcats possessed a two-time conference player of the year, everyone needed to know how they fit to bring home a title.
McCollum preached all season long that each player on his roster knew what they had to do in order to be the most disciplined team in the country.
Schneider and freshman Ryan Welty were charged with 3-point duty throughout the year, shooting 46 percent and 66 percent behind the arc, respectively.
It is worth mentioning that Schneider converted less than 30 two-point field goals throughout his four-year tenure while making a combined 370 shots from deep. Schneider is also Northwest’s and the MIAA’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals made.
Junior forward Chris-Ebou Ndow is the second most athletically gifted athlete on the team. The big man finds the hoop at his own will and has ability to create his own shot at any time.
Senior Anthony Woods provided stability in the starting guard position while junior Xavier Kurth added extra spice off the bench when needed.
Senior D’Vante Mosby and junior Brett Dougherty are role models in every game. For Dougherty, his job was clear and concise: grab rebounds, clean up missed shots and protect the rim.
Mosby will be the most missed contributor to this championship squad. If the energy level to a Bearcat basketball game is an eight, a Mosby appearance boosts that number to an 11.
I save the best for last. Junior guard Justin Pitts is in a class of his own, not only from a spectator perspective, but from his coaches’ and teammates’ perspectives as well.
For two straight years, the 5-foot-7-inch guard has been selected as the best player in Division II basketball.
He is arguably the all-time best Division II basketball player to have ever set foot on the hardwood.
What makes the hairs stand up on arms is the Blue Springs native is only a junior. Pitts will return for one final year, and just as he has done throughout his illustrious career at Northwest, he will only get better.