Kansas City, here they come

Some years are better than others.

For Columbia College Cougars basketball coach Bob Burchard, well ... this one's certainly been a WOW.

He's in his 25th season at the NAIA school, a school he's transformed into a perennial power. He's taken them to the national tournament 17 times, including 16 of the past 19 years.

The Cougars are an eye-popping 630-225 during his reign, a winning percentage of 78 percent.

Burchard did not inherit a powerhouse. Hardly. In the 14 years prior to his arrival, the Cougars were a lousy 98-224 (30 percent).

â??Some people claim athletics is the window or the front door to a college,â?? Burchard said. â??Iâ??m living proof that athletics rides the wave of an amazing place.

"This wave has been going for a long while, and a guy like me sits on that wave as long as he can. Itâ??s been one heck of a ride.â??

Indeed. Let's look at what's happened in the past 12 months for Burchard:

* Last spring, he was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame;

* He won his 600th game, an 85-75 decision over Central Methodist, on Nov. 14. His reward? 600 cans of his favorite beverage, Diet Coke.

* It was announced in January that Burchard would be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame during an April 14 ceremony at Capitol Plaza.

* His Cougars are 33-0 and ranked No. 1 entering the national tournament. His team in the only remaining unbeaten men's team in the nation --- at any level.

Not bad, huh? How's your year going?

"When I called up my mother, I think her response was: 'How much more can people do for you?" Burchard said with a laugh. "I think that put it all in perspective.

"But it's been an amazing time period, so many positive things have come our way. I'm very humbled and grateful."

The Cougars will open the NAIA National Tournament at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Oklahoma City (17-10) --- a six-time national champion --- at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.

Unlike the other college team in Columbia, these Big Cats can obviously win on the road.

They just know how to win, period.

"Obviously, the body of work this team has put together is special," Burchard said. "To go undefeated is quite spectacular. I think the thing I appreciate most is the consistency of the effort and level of play.

"And not only have they been successful on the court, they're just people of fine character and so strong academically (10 Cougars were named academic all-conference, six have perfect 4.0 GPAs).

"To have that level of performance in all facets of what we try to do, it's really top of the charts."

Only seven of the team's 33 wins have been decided by single digits; just two this calendar year. After ripping through the regular season, the Cougars won their three games in the American Midwest Conference Tournament by a combined 70 points.

As a result of a season-long series of blowouts, no less than 11 players on the roster have played more than 200 minutes this season.

"I think that's the main reason why we're here, we have so much depth," Burchard said. "To have someone behind everybody and be an equally good player, it's a luxury, to be sure.

"It just takes the pressure off of everybody."

Having said that, the team has had the same starting five in all 33 games this season. Talk about a luxury.

"We've been so fortunate," Burchard said. "Many years, it's so difficult to even determine your starting five. Then, there are so many things that can take you off the court. Injuries is one, obviously, sickness, and then not acting appropriately is another.

"It's quite astounding. Hopefully, we can keep that going for another week."

One of those starters is Rock Bridge product Jordan Dressler, a 6-8 senior forward. Dressler, son of former MU standout Mark Dressler, is averaging 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.

But it's Dressler's ball-handling skills that separate him from other big men, as Burchard calls him the most skilled passer of any post player he's ever coached.

"He's got the whole package; he impacts the game in so many ways," Burchard said. "When you can direct so much of your offense through that position, it just makes your team that much more dangerous. And obviously he's a defensive presence, as well.

Other starters for the Cougars are:

* Devin Griffin (Fairview Heights, Ill.) 6-0, jr., 13.2 ppg.

* Derrick Dilworth (Webster Groves) 6-4, jr., 11.4 ppg.

* Tanner Sutton (Harrisonville) 6-2, soph., 7.7 ppg.

* and Marquette Murrell (Memphis, Tenn.) 6-6, sr., 6.4 ppg., 6.0 rpg.

The top player off the bench is 6-4 sophomore Zachary Rockers --- a 2011 graduate of Helias --- who's averaging 8.8 points and has made a team-high 74 3 pointers.

"His skill level is really high," Burchard said. "He's averaging almost a point and half per minute played, which is quite phenomenal. Helias must train them right, I must say that.

"He does everything right, both on and off the court (Rockers is a 4.0 student). He's the poster child of what you'd like to have in a college athlete."

The NAIA National Tournament is a grueling event --- the final two teams in the 32-team field will play five games in seven days. No easy task, to be sure.

"They bill it as college basketball's toughest tournament for that reason," Burchard said. "Hopefully, our depth will serve us well."

Don't be surprised if it does, for these Big Cats from Columbia know how to win. Period.

Kansas City, here they come.