COLUMBIA — Throughout its 30-0 regular-season run and even after it was complete, the Columbia College men's basketball team made one thing clear: For the Cougars, the perfect season didn't end in February.
Sure, they enjoyed the winning and the record setting. Their smiles and words after every win proved this. But the grouphas loftier goals. Three, to be exact.
One: to win the American Midwest Conference, which they did weeks ago.
Two: to win the conference tournament, which begins Thursday.
Three: to win the NAIA national championship.
Anything less than three for three will be considered a disappointment.
"The season's not over," sophomore guard Tanner Sutton said after the Cougars' win over William Woods in the regular season finale. "This is only one step into it."
Completing each goal gives the Cougars a better chance at accomplishing the next one. Finishing first in the AMC conference earned them the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. If they win that, it guarantees them a spot in the national championship tournament.
Step Two begins Thursday night when Columbia College hosts Hannibal-LaGrange in the first round of the AMC Tournament. Because of their top ranking, the Cougars are guaranteed home court throughout the tournament. Here's a look at the first round matchups from across the conference.
(9) Hannibal-LaGrange University vs. (1) Columbia College
Outlook: The top-seeded Cougars have won their previous nine contests against Hannibal-LaGrange dating back to 2010, including twice this season, 84-38 on Jan. 15 and 68-50 on Feb. 12. Hannibal-LaGrange made the AMC Tournament finals a year ago, when it lost to Columbia College, but it has managed just a 2-14 record in conference play this season. The No.9 seed, Hannibal-LaGrange defeated No.8 Benedictine-Springfield on Tuesday in the tournament play-in game for a chance to play the Cougars.
Players to watch: Columbia College senior center Jordan Dressler: The reigning AMC Player of the Year, Dressler leads the Cougars in scoring and rebounds and is coach Bob Burchard's go-to man in times of trouble. Dressler dominated in last weekend's tight win over William Woods, using an array of post moves on his way to a game-high 19 points.
Hannibal-LaGrange senior forward Jurgen Lico: A 6-foot-6 big man from Athens, Greece, Lico is a dual-threat. His 37 percent shooting from 3-point range is above average, but impressive given his size and ability to get to the basket. He scored a team-high 14 points in the win over Benedictine-Springfield.
(5) William Woods University vs. (4) Williams Baptist College
Outlook: The two schools split their season series, both winning in different fashions. William Woods blew out Williams Baptist 103-55 in January in Fulton. The rematch at Williams Baptist was much closer, with Williams Baptist winning 74-69. Both teams enter the tournament coming off a conference loss, William Woods to Columbia College and Williams Baptist to Harris-Stowe State.
Players to watch: William Woods senior forward Daniel Armah: Long and explosive, the 6-foot-6 Armah has been a force for William Woods, averaging a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds per game in his final season. A native of Ghana, Armah's presence under the basket has helped William Woods (13-16, 9-7 AMC) to its best season.
Williams Baptist senior forward Kyle Harvey: The AMC's leading scorer with more than 19 points per game, Harvey is a dynamic offensive threat from anywhere on the floor. A forward by trade, he has the ability to expand the floor and shoot from 3-point range as well. His advanced skill set on the offensive end is known throughout the league and often draws double-teams.
(6) Lyon College vs. (3) Missouri Baptist University
Outlook: If Lyon College had a signature win this season it was on Jan. 15 against Missouri Baptist, when it won 73-69 on the road. Missouri Baptist returned the favor in the rematch, handing Lyon a 78-64 defeat in February on Lyons home court. Lyon didn't fare well against other top AMC competition, finishing the season with a 5-11 conference record. Missouri Baptist finished 10-6.
Players to watch: Missouri Baptist senior guard Le Andre' Johnson: Missouri Baptist is led by Johnson, who averaged 15 points per game this season. A player who prefers to go to the basket, he's not much of a 3-point threat, attempting only 10 3-point shots this season.
Lyon College sophomore forward Kendall Leeks: The versatile Leeks has recorded four double-doubles this season, including one Jan. 31 when he scored a career-high 36 points and collected 10 rebounds against Harris-Stowe State.
(7) Harris Stowe University vs. (2) Park University
Outlook: Probably to blame for Harris-Stowe losing nine of its past 11 games on its way to a 5-11 conference record is the fact that it has just seven active players on its roster. Despite that, Harris-Stowe ended the regular season in style, topping No. 4 seeded Williams Baptist by an 18-point margin on Feb. 23. Park only lost three times in conference play, twice to Columbia College and once to Benedictine in December. It defeated Harris-Stowe twice, both in close contests. First by nine points on Jan 15, then again by four in overtime on Feb. 12.
Players to watch: Harris-Stowe senior forward Dallis Johnson: Johnson has put up monster numbers, shooting 50 percent from the field on his way to a 17 points per game average. His 34-point, 13-rebound performance Jan. 12 against Hannibal-LaGrange was one of the most dominant in the AMC this season.
ParkUniversity junior forward Melvin Rowe: Rowe leads a balanced Park attack with his two-way play. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in two games against Harris-Stowe this season.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.