Too many times we give all our sports attention to the pros and big-time college programs. We are sometimes slow to recognize area Division II schools that have become national powers in multiple sports.

Northwest Missouri State University won its second NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship in three years. The Bearcats did it this year with a recording breaking 38-0 season. The Bearcats team has become known as a national Division II power by winning six national championships and being runner’s up three other seasons. Coach Ben McCollum and his staff have made the school one of the great basketball programs in the country.

The teams have a cumulative record of 100 wins with only five losses in the last three years. Since 2001, the Bearcats have won nine Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conferences championships, seven MIAA tournament championships and have played in 14 NCAA Division II national tournaments.

This is at a school that has been a football power for twenty years. It is hard to find any school in the country that can match the success Northwest has experienced in both of the major sports at any NCAA level. Most schools feature a dominant football program or a dominant basketball program, but few meet the challenge in both sports.

Three years ago, both the football and basketball programs won NCAA national championships and were undefeated in football and had only one loss in basketball. The only other team that had accomplished this magical feat in recent history was the Florida Gators in 2009.

The one thing that stands out about the way things are done at Northwest Missouri is they love to recruit kids that fit into the Bearcat team philosophy. If you play for the Bearcats, you MUST be a team player. The word “I” does not exist in Maryville, Missouri. You have to place the team above yourself and work hard for it to be a positive outcome. Ben McCollum’s 2018-2019 team ranked high in the team philosophy.

They played tremendous team defense and in most of the games at least four guys scored in double figures. The Bearcats team members gave up a shot so another team member could get a better shot. The team obviously had a lot of great talent, but they worked together to form a cohesive unit better than nearly any team around. Their level of play at every position also contributed to their success. They did not give an inch in any possession, both offensively and defensively. They played an eight-man rotation with the starters playing a lot of minutes. They appeared tireless and in all 38 victories. they shifted into another gear in the final ten-minute stretch of the game.

The team’s schedule this year was one of the hardest in the history of the school which helped them to handle pressure throughout the entire season. This year’s team is only the fifth school in NCAA history to simultaneously win a national championship and remain undefeated. Coach McCollum and his staff managed the end-of-the-season injuries that began to creep up during the NCAA tournament run excellently. It is a huge physical grind to play 38 basketball games in one season, but that is when the discipline of the team shone the brightest.

They were a bunch of grinders that never lost their confidence and had faith in the system. They all stayed mentally tough to overcome the adversity of the desire of every single team they played to beat the No. 1 rated team in the country. For those who do not know much about Division II sports, it is a good time to become aware that the Northwest Missouri area has one of the greatest college sports programs nationally. Bearcat alumni cannot wait for the start of the football season because it is the beginning of seven great months of football followed by basketball.

The quote of the week comes from heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali, “You could be the world’s best garbage man, the world’s best model; it don’t matter what you do if you’re the best.”

– Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at t.crone@comcast.net.