JOPLIN, Mo.-Missouri Southern State wasn't looking like an NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament team after losing five of its first seven games this season.
Lions head coach and Valley City (N.D.) High School graduate Jeff Boschee, however, had faith in his team's resolve.
"The best thing for us is we have great kids, good character kids," Boschee said. "When things go astray, you can bounce two ways. You can sink the boat or you can continue sailing."
Missouri Southern (20-9) sailed through the final portion of the season, winning 16 of 19 games against Division II opponents to earn the No. 5 seed for the Central Region, which starts Saturday, March 10, in Maryville, Mo. The Lions play against No. 4-seeded Southwest Minnesota State (24-8) from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Boschee, named North Dakota's Mr. Basketball in 1998, is in his fourth season as head coach at Missouri Southern. He was an assistant coach in the program four seasons prior to that. This is the first time as a head coach Boschee has guided his team to the NCAA tournament.
"It means a lot for the program and for our players to get to experience it," Boschee said. "It makes you feel better as a coach. I don't know if it makes me any better of a coach or what. We've got good players. I have a great coaching staff that does a lot of the work."
Boschee scored more than 1,500 points during his career at Kansas (1998-2002) and played in four NCAA Division I men's basketball tournaments under then head coach Roy Williams. Boschee is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made at Kansas with 338.
Missouri Southern defeated defending Division II national champion Northwest Missouri State (27-3) twice during the regular season. The Bearcats are the No. 1 seed in the Central Region and play Minnesota State-Mankato in the first round.
Boschee said Southwest Minnesota State plays a similar style to Northwest Missouri State.
"They really remind me of Northwest Missouri with the way they space you out," Boschee said. "They put shooters all around you. We are going to have our work cut out for us."
Junior guard Ryan Bruggeman, from Pelican Rapids, Minn., leads Southwest Minnesota State in scoring, averaging 16.8 points per game. The 6-foot Bruggeman is also averaging a team-high 6.1 assists per game.
"Bruggeman is so good on ball screens and controls every aspect of the game," Boschee said. "They're not going to beat themselves. You're going to have to beat them and make sure you do your job."