It is once again time for the most exciting tournament of the year, Arch Madness. The Missouri Valley Tournament gets the spotlight early (3/2) as ten teams hope to secure a spot in the in the big dance. The following is a team by team analysis followed by predictions.
10th Seed Drake Bulldogs (7-23, 5-13)
A quick look at their record says it all for the Bulldogs. But don’t write them off in the first round just yet. Drake was able to put a couple of solid first halves together against much better teams. The second half is where the team usually fell apart. Junior guard Reed Timmer has been a standout all year posting 15.1 points per game. If he can continue to shoot the way he has all season, he gives Drake a fighting chance against Bradley in the first round.
9th Seed Indiana State Sycamores (11-19, 5-13)
Indiana State will have their hands full in the first round against Evansville. If they make it to the second round all bets are off. They have been the Achilles heal for the Illinois State Redbirds in years past, but enough about the what ifs. Everett Clemons is an absolute game changer and he distributes the ball really well posting 4.6 assists per game. These first round games are an absolute toss up but anything can happen when you have a player like Clemons running the show.
8th Seed Evansville Purple Aces (15-16, 6-12)
By far the best nickname in all of college sports, the Aces had a down year, for lack of a better term. Just a year ago they were the 2 seed but fortunes have turned. They will face off against the previously mentioned Sycamores in the first round. Both meetings between the two were decided by less than three points and you should not expect anything different. Jaylon Brown has been an absolute beast, posting 20.6 points per game. Look for more of the same.
7th Seed Bradley Braves (12-19, 7-11)
The Braves are by far the most intriguing team in the first round. Made up of mostly freshman and sophomores, Coach Brian Wardle is doing the rebuild in the right way. With some solid recruits on the way Bradley has the opportunity for a strong showing against Drake. The Braves swept the Bulldogs in the regular season and would hope to get a third win with the Shockers eagerly waiting for the result.
6th Seed Missouri State Bears (16-15, 7-11)
The Bears had a turbulent season, losing multiple nailbiters. None of that matters as Alize Johnson and company storm St.Louis looking to upset the Conference. This is my darkhorse team to upset Northern Iowa and give Wichita State a hell of a game. The previously mentioned Johnson dominates the game and he has help around him. The best name in the conference Obediah Church works the post well and provides for stability down low.
5th Seed Loyola Ramblers (18-13,8-10)
The relative newcomers to the valley were an absolute treat to watch all season long. The 8-10 conference record means nothing, this team can score in bunches. With a team field goal percentage of 49.2, the Ramblers have a tough test against Southern Illinois. Clayton Custer, or as I have just nicknamed him, “The General” has been the rock of the team all season. If the Ramblers can play solid defense look for them to get to at least the semi-finals.
4th Seed Southern Illinois Salukis (16-15, 9-9)
It is fair to say the Salukis have flown under the radar a bit this year. 2 of their 9 conference wins came against their first round opponent Loyola, which I guess makes my previous prediction an upset. A win likely gives them a date with the top-seeded Illinois State Redbirds in the semi-finals. They went 0-2 against the Birds but took them into overtime the first game and only lost by 4 in the second.
3rd Seed Northern Iowa Panthers (14-15, 9-9)
This team is an absolute mystery this season. After an extremely tough non-conference schedule the Panthers came out of the gate 0-5 in the MVC. They would then win five straight, drop a game, win 4 more, and drop the last 3. Talk about streaky. Both meetings with Missouri State were decided by 4 points or less with the away team coming away with the victory. Northern Iowa was only consistent by a measure of inconsistency which is why I have them losing a close one to the Bears.
2nd Seed Wichita State Shockers (27-4, 17-1)
Most likely the favorite, the Shockers of Wichita State lost the conference tie-breaker to the Illinois State Redbirds by way of strength of schedule. The Shockers have absolutely steamrolled through the valley only dropping 1 to the Birds in Normal. None of their wins have been close games, but that may change this weekend. Wichita gets a lot of love from the bracketologists and their record speaks for itself. At the very least the Shockers SHOULD make the finals if not win the whole thing. Barring an absolute collapse, the Shockers will most likely be dancing come late March.
1st Seed Illinois State Redbirds
If you buy into the saying” defense wins championships” then the Redbirds are your pick. Coming off a record-breaking regular season, Coach Dan Muller leads the Birds into unfamiliar territory. Lead by MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee, Illinois State looks to make its first tournament since Muller was a player. The player to watch is Tony Wills in my opinion. After a really slow start he has finally found his shooting stroke and his defense is second to none. Anything short of a finals appearance will be a disappointment for hardcore Redbirds fans as the lack of love from the “experts” leaves ISU on the bubble. (Did I mention that ISU had a better SOS than Wichita?)
Bradley vs Drake= 62-55 Bradley
Indiana State vs Evansville= 58-50 Evansville
Southern Illinois vs Loyola= 71-59 Loyola
Northern Iowa vs Missouri State= 53-50 Missouri State
Evansville vs Illinois State= 56-45 Illinois State
Bradley vs Wichita State= 74-51 Wichita State
Illinois State vs Loyola= 61-57 Illinois State
Wichita State vs Missouri State- 71-64 Wichita State
Illinois State vs Wichita State= 63-56 Illinois State