Whether it wins or loses in Sunday's championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, No. 20 Loyola Chicago has the resume and metrics to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
On the other hand, Drake's candidacy, which in normal circumstances wouldn't even be a question after it improved to 25-3 with a 71-69 win in Saturday's second semifinal against Missouri State, could hinge on the result.
Depending on which bracketologist one believes, the second-seeded Bulldogs are either safely in or squarely on the bubble. That they literally can't put their best foot forward might make the difference.
Leading scorer Shanquan Hemphill (team-high 14.1 points along with 6.3 rebounds per game) won't play because of a broken foot that's sidelined him the last eight games. Point guard Roman Penn (11.2 ppg, 5.5 assists) is also sidelined for the year with a broken foot.
They were badly missed in a regular season-ending loss at Bradley that cost Drake the top seed for the conference tournament. But the Bulldogs were able to survive their absence Saturday by leaning on Joseph Yesufu and Tremell Murphy for a combined 45 points.
Yesufu played the hero's role at the end, driving for a layup with 2.0 seconds left to snap a tie and send Drake to its first MVC title game since 2008.
"Coach knew Joe had it going and gave him the green light," Murphy said. "We all had faith in him."
Yesufu, who is the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer this season at 12.1 ppg while coming off the bench in all but four games, pumped in 25 points and Murphy added 20. Drake owned a 48-36 advantage in points in the paint and committed just two turnovers.
That gave the Bulldogs a third crack at the Ramblers (23-4). The teams split a weekend series last month in Des Moines, Drake's win coming by 51-50 in overtime on Valentine's Day.
"Loyola has had a tremendous year and I feel like we've had a tremendous year as well," Bulldogs coach Darian DeVries said. "I think it's a great matchup."
The Ramblers didn't have to sweat nearly as much as Drake to hold up their end of the deal Saturday. Loyola owned a double-figure lead for most of its 65-49 win over Indiana State, getting 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists from Cameron Krutwig.
After struggling to score points in their last four games of the regular season, when it averaged only 57.3 ppg, the Ramblers are averaging 69 points in their two games in St. Louis.
"You can tell the pressure is off after winning the regular-season title," Loyola coach Porter Moser said. "It's hard to win championships without hitting shots and we know we can shoot it."
The late slump aside, the Ramblers are converting 50.2 percent from the field this season. Krutwig enters Sunday averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, while six other teammates chip in between 7.1 and 8.3 ppg.
Loyola is aiming for its second Valley tournament title in four years, while the Bulldogs are shooting for their first in 13 years.
--Field Level Media