Bradley has proved it can't be easily disregarded.
The Braves knocked off top-seeded Loyola in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, then rallied from an 18-point deficit against Northern Iowa to win the championship and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
While flying under the midmajor radar, Bradley beat Penn State in November in the Cancun Challenge and knocked off Loyola twice in three meetings. The Braves (20-14) aren't worried heading into their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 13 years.
"We're very confident," coach Brian Wardle said. "Whoever we play, wherever we play, we're going to prepare the same way we've done all year and go in there confidently. We feel on a neutral floor we're as good as anybody when we're clicking and staying together."
While Bradley received more attention this weekend for the program's feud with a Peoria Journal Star beat reporter than for its achievements, the focus turned back to basketball Sunday. The Braves were seeded 15th in the East Region and will face No. 2 seed Michigan State (28-6) in the first round Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Here are five things to know about the Braves:
1. Local boy on big stage.
Wardle is becoming known nationally as the coach who wears red shoes on the sideline.
But locally, the Willowbrook native is best known for his days as a prolific scorer at Hinsdale Central. A 1997 graduate, Wardle is the Red Devils' all-time leading scorer with 1,632 points and ranks second in rebounds (668), assists (319) and blocks (91).
He went on to play for Marquette from 1997 to 2001 and as a senior was a team captain and averaged 18.8 points. His 1,690 points (in 117 games) rank eighth in school history. After earning a bachelor's degree in communication studies, he played in the NBA development league and the Continental Basketball Association before delving into coaching.
Wardle became the youngest active Division I head coach in 2010 when Green Bay hired him at 31. His teams twice were invited to the NIT. He went 95-65 in five seasons with the Phoenix and led them to NIT berths in 2014 and '15.
He took over at Bradley the next season, and the Braves finished 5-27. Three years later, they're back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
2. Rough start, strong finish.
After the conference tournament final, a reporter referenced the Braves' 0-5 start in MVC play. Wardle said sarcastically, "I haven't heard that before."
The turnaround bears repeating: The Braves went 12-4 the rest of the way.
"We got no shortcuts," Wardle said. "We went through it all as a group, and we earned this. That's why I think we're so emotional and happy. It's been a journey for us."
3. Defensive stoppers, 3-point shooters.
The Braves won 10 of 11 games -- including the last three -- in which they held opponents under 60 points. In the MVC Tournament final, they limited Northern Iowa to 33 percent shooting on 2-point shots. Keep an eye on sophomore forward Elijah Childs. He had five blocks and 16 rebounds combined in the last two games.
The Bradley offense was wildly inconsistent in the MVC Tournament. The Braves went long stretches without a basket and made only 29.4 percent of their 3-point attempts against Northern Iowa, scoring 15 points in the first half before a huge comeback.
Bradley does have some dangerous 3-point weapons. Leading scorer Darrell Brown is shooting 43.9 percent, Nate Kennell 40.3 percent and Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye 39.2 percent. Kennell hit 5 of 8 3s in the semifinal victory against Loyola.
4. The last dance.
In Bradley's last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, the Braves pulled off a couple of memorable upsets as an at-large bid to advance to the Sweet 16.
As a No. 13 seed, they stunned fourth-seeded Kansas 77-73 in Auburn Hills, Mich. Marcellus Sommerville made 5 of 9 3-pointers and scored 21 points.
Two days later, Bradley knocked off No. 5 seed Pittsburgh 72-66 behind 28 points from Patrick O'Bryant and 18 from Sommerville.
The magical ride finally ended in a regional semifinal in Oakland, Calif. The Braves lost to John Calipari and No. 1 seed Memphis 80-64 and finished 22-11.
5. Meet Kaboom!
Yes, the mascot is a little creepy -- and a little adorable.
Bradley introduced Kaboom! -- its official name includes an exclamation point -- in 2014 after not having a mascot since 2000. Although it resembles a baby vampire, Kaboom! is a gargoyle and was modeled after The Thinker, one of four gargoyles that sit atop the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center in Peoria.
The name comes from longtime Bradley radio play-by-play announcer Dave Snell, whose trademark call of "Kaboom!" after slam dunks has been a staple on more than 1,200 broadcasts since 1979.
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