The best conference tournament in America that you have never been to occurs every year in the Missouri Valley. What the natives call “Arch Madness” is potentially the best mix of the desperation of Championship Week with high-quality play that occurs in college basketball. Mix in the fact that it has become a festival for the fans of the various schools and includes an often high-energy environment and the Missouri Valley conference tournament is one that everyone should visit at least once.
And if you were going to pick a year to go MVC, this would be the one. For the first time in a number of years, the Missouri Valley is likely a one-bid league, meaning the events in St. Louis will be the sole decider as to who will play into March. While Missouri State and Wichita State are the class of the conference, the gap between these two teams and Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Creighton is not large. Thus, even though cries that the “Valley is down” might mean less teams at the top, it will likely mean a tremendous tournament.
The favorite is Missouri State (23-7, 15-3), which won the conference with a home victory over Wichita State in the last game of the season. The Bears are America’s perpetual bubble team and this season likely will find themselves on the opposite side come Selection Sunday if they don’t win in St. Louis. Missouri State is led by Kyle Weems, the do-everything junior forward who has dominated the Valley all season. His ability to score inside and out makes him a matchup problem for every team in the league and the Bears rise and fall based on his play. Towards the end of the season, fatigue seemed to have set in and his worst performances occurred in the final four games.
If the Bears falter, it likely will be to Wichita State (23-7, 14-4). The Shockers are as balanced a team as you will see in the country, with seven players all averaging between 6 and 11 points. Wichita State looked to be the favorite in conference prior to the season and its losses to UCONN, San Diego State and VCU out of the Missouri Valley are nothing for which to be ashamed. But two losses to Missouri State and a bad loss at home to Southern Illinois likely make this a must-win to dance.
If the two favorites falter, the next 4-5 teams all have a fighting chance. The team with the most experience is last year’s tournament darling Northern Iowa (19-12, 10-8). The Panthers have not been the same team since the injury to Lucas O’Rear and his shamrock tattoo, but in a one-game scenario they are dangerous. Indiana State and Creighton also have the ability to surprise.
PREDICTION: Missouri State and Wichita State battle to the finals, but the third time is the charm for the Shockers, who get the bid to the Big Dance.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 6, 2 pm (CBS)
Best Three Players
- Kyle Weems, Missouri State
- Andrew Warren, Bradley
- Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Northern Iowa
Conference RPI: 12
Kenpom.com Rating: 11
Sagarin Rating: 10
NCAA Tournament Locks: None
NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Missouri State, Wichita State
Last NCAA Tournament
Missouri State: 1999 (lost to Duke in Sweet 16)
Wichita State: 2008 (lost to George Mason in Sweet 16)
Indiana State: 2001 (lost to Gonzaga in Second Round)
Northern Iowa: 2010 (lost to Michigan State in Sweet 16)
Creighton: 2007 (lost to Nevada in first round)
Evansville: 1999 (lost to Kansas in first round)
Drake: 2008 (lost to Western Kentucky in first round)
Southern Illinois: 2007 (lost to Kansas in Sweet 16)
Illinois State: 1998 (lost to Arizona in Second Round)
Bradley: 2006 (lost to Memphis in Sweet 16)
Posted by MATT JONES
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