Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview
I do not envy the gambling man that has the stones or the necessity to put money on Arch Madness. Yes, the objectively best conference tournament is upon us and no one in their right mind could confidently pick the next Missouri Valley Champion, until now. This has been a rough but entertaining year in The Valley. Last year’s Final Four darling, Loyola, looks to repeat and return to the big dance. What stands in their way you ask? Just 7 other teams that could legitimately win it all. Valley teams have done great once they make the tournament, going 9-0 in the first round since 2011.
2018 Champion: Loyola-Chicago
1st seed Loyola Ramblers 19-12 (12-6)
Defending champs and the number 1 seed, no-brainer right? Not so fast. Loyola did just enough to land the top spot but they were far from impressive. There were a handful of games in conference play where they simply did not show up. For Sister Jean’s sake the Loyola faithful hope those days are behind them. Regardless, they have one of the top big men in the conference in Cameron Krutwig and the lighting rod that is Marques Townes. High ceiling for this group.
3rd seed Southern Illinois Salukis 17-14 (10-8)
Barry Hinson has his boys rolling at the right time with a 3 game winning streak. The Salukis have more energy than any other team and that’s how tournaments are won. Kavion Pippen (Yes, that Pippen) is a swat machine down-low and few in the valley are able to guard him on the other end. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they cut down the nets. Regardless of the results, you gotta love the passion Coach Hinson has for the conference. “It’s the Valley!”
4th seed Missouri State Bears 16-15 (10-8)
After a brutal start to conference play, the Missouri State Bears pulled a complete 180 and put themselves in a great spot to make a deep run. They are 4-0 against their likely opponents Bradley and Loyola, paving a smooth road to the conference finals.
2nd Seed Drake Bulldogs 23-8 (12-6)
After the departure of Reed Timmer, it looked as though the Bulldogs were poised for a down year. As the season progressed it became apparent that Drake might be for real. I’m still not 100% sold but I have been wrong all year about them. They are on the favorable side of the bracket and stranger things have happened.
7th seed Illinois State Redbirds 16-15 (9-9)
What a disappointing year for Dan Muller’s squad. The senior-laden squad will have to win 4 games in order to make the tournament for the first time since 1998. Luckily for the Birds they are 5-1 against the opponents on their side of the bracket. Short of any miraculous buzzer-beaters, I like ISU’s chances to surprise. The conference’s most NBA ready player in Milik Yarbrough needs to play consistent and control the pace of each game in order to meet pre-season expectations. It’s now or never for the Birds.
6th seed Northern Iowa Panthers 14-17 (9-9)
No matter how poorly UNI plays, you can always count on them to show up at Arch Madness. 2 weeks ago, they were my pick to win it all but a recent stretch of putrid games has changed that calculus a bit. Although the bottom side of the bracket is more favorable for the Panthers, they are 0-2 against their first-round opponent SIU. If the right Panther team shows up, however, look out.
5th seed Bradley Braves 17-14 (9-9)
As is expected based on my bias, I have little faith that Bradley can get it done this year. To do so would mean beating both Missouri State and Loyola who they are 1-3 against on the season. The Braves, however, are very young leaving them slightly naive to the magnitude of each game. The future is bright in Peoria but I do not think they are ready just yet.
8th seed Indiana State Sycamores 15-15 (7-11)
It was a rough year for the fans in Terra Haute and this tournament does not look like it will change that. They are, however 2-0 against their first round opponent Valpo. 2 wins in this tournament would be a massive moral victory but Indiana State obviously wants more. I will say it again, this is the year that anyone can take the Valley.
9th seed Valparaiso Crusaders 14-17 (7-11)
The newest members of the Valley started off conference play with style, leading the conference through the first handful of games. The 9th seed conveys that that success was not sustained. They will have their hands full in round 1 against Indiana State as they try to take down the Sycamores for the first time this year. If successful they will have a date with the Ramblers who outscored them by 22 points in their two matchups.
10th seed Evansville Purple Aces 11-20 (5-13)
The only team everyone is counting out is the Aces and for good reason. For starters, they will need 4 wins, which is one less than their number of conference wins on the season. They also get an extremely tough draw in Illinois State. So what will it take for Evansville to cut down the nets? Well, Sister Jean would likely have to be possessed by Beelzebub himself forcing her to switch sides. After that all bets are off.
- Illinois State over Evansville
- Indiana State over Valpo
- Loyola over Indiana State
- Missouri State over Bradley
- Illinois State over Drake
- Southern Illinois over Northern Iowa
- Loyola over Missouri State
- Southern Illinois over Illinois State
- Southern Illinois over Loyola