Arch Madness is here. My favorite mid-major conference tournament kicks it off Thursday in St. Louis. The Missouri Valley offered fantastic finishes, crazy twists and major upsets throughout the conference this year. Teams two through eight may be as balanced as any other conference in the nation. Is there anyone that is up for knocking off Wichita? Can Creighton solidify an at large bid without winning the tournament? Let's find out!
1. Wichita State 26-4 (16-2 Missouri Valley)
The Wichita State Shockers won Missouri Valley regular season title and the title for the conferences' coolest nickname. The Shockers come into the tournament ranked No. 14 in the nation and will most certainly be in the NCAA tournament regardless of their conference tournament performance. In a league that has produced some fantastic NCAA teams, the Missouri Valley could product two Sweet Sixteen teams this year.
Wichita State won the NIT tournament and took that momentum straight into 2011. Wichita won 16 of their 18 conference games this year and went 9-2 in their non-conference games. They destroyed a potent UNLV team by 19 and crushed Davidson on the road in their bracket buster game.
2. Creighton 25-5 (14-4 Missouri Valley)
The Creighton Jays earn the second seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Led by Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott (23.1 ppg), the Jays are also in great shape for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. Creighton is ranked No. 24 in the country and has knocked off Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern from the Big 10.
The Jays have cut it close lately with a buzzer-beater win against Long Beach State (Big West) and two one-point wins over Evansville and Indiana State. Those type of close games have defined the Missouri Valley this year and are a sure recipe for a great conference tournament ahead.
3. Evansville 15-14 (9-9 Missouri Valley)
Evansville is the beneficiary of a five-way tie for third place. Maybe the biggest surprise in the Missouri Valley this year, Evansville will look to carry their solid play down the stretch into their first round game against Missouri State. This three-versus-six game is my first-round game to watch as Evansville swept Missouri State during the regular season, both games ending in overtime.
4. Illinois State 18-12 (9-9 Missouri Valley)
The Redbirds came out second in the five-way tie. Their reward is a matchup with an incredibly scrappy and determined Northern Iowa team. Illinois State and Northern Iowa split the regular season series and look for the rubber match to be their platform for a run at the Missouri Valley title. Illinois State is as balanced in scoring as any team in the conference. On any given night they have five guys that fill it up. I see the balanced attack as a way for Illinois State to be a sleeper in the Missouri Valley, if they get past UNI.
5. Northern Iowa 19-12 (9-9 Missouri Valley)
Ben Jacobsen and the Panthers are the fifth seed in the Missouri Valley tournament. The Panthers have faced some issues this season with the consistency of their play. After starting 10-1, UNI lost three straight. Since then, they have been slowly building back their confident style of play. Aside from a 25-point thumping as the hands of Wichita two weeks ago, UNI really seems to be getting their rhythm back.
They played VCU very close in their bracket buster game and ended the season a nice two-game win streak. Like Illinois State, UNI could be a sneaky team in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, unfortunately however only one can advance past Friday.
6. Missouri State 16-13 (9-9 Missouri Valley)
Missouri State will be the sixth seed in the Missouri Valley conference. After a promising start to the month of February, Missouri State fell apart. The Bears have lost four straight games and have a rematch with Evansville for a potential chance to shock Wichita State. One thing is for sure, we will find the mental makeup of this team as they look to turn the tide.
7. Drake 16-14 (9-9 Missouri Valley)
The Drake Bulldogs are the seventh seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. On the back end of the 9-9 log jam, Drake will have to play an opening round game Thursday against Bradley. Drake won their previous two games this season against Bradley but but were close contested. If Drake gets past Bradley, they will face a Creighton team that handled them both times they face each other in the conference. I like the future of Drake basketball, but I think this year it ends on day two against Creighton.
8. Indiana State 17-13 (8-10 Missouri Valley)
Indiana State will not have the luxury of Larry Bird starting at the SF for them next week so they will need to figure something else out. All joking aside, Indiana State has a few things to hang their hat on coming into the Missouri Valley conference. The Sycamores beat No. 25 Vanderbilt earlier this season and lost to Creighton by one this past Saturday. Having won three of their last five, Indiana State will be an interesting team to keep an eye on in St. Louis.
9. Southern Illinois 8-22 (5-13 Missouri Valley)
The Salukis are not the traditional contender of yesteryear. Southern Illinois has had an extremely disappointing season with just eight wins in 30 games. Once a mainstay in the Missouri Valley, the Salukis appear to be heading in the direct opposite direction. Southern Illinois made appearances in the tournament every year from 2002-2007 but has not been back since. They may knock off Indiana State in the eight-verses-nine game but their season will definitely be over against Wichita the next day if they make it that far.
10. Bradley 7-24 (2-16 Missouri Valley)
The Bradley Braves round out the pack in the Missouri Valley. A disappointing 2011-2012 campaign will come to a close in their opening round game against Drake.
No. 7 Drake over No. 10 Bradley
No. 8 Indiana State over No. 9 Southern Illinois
No. 1 Wichita State over No. 8 Indiana State
No. 2 Creighton over No. 7 Drake
No. 3 Evansville over No. 6 Missouri State
No. 5 UNI over No. 4 Illinois State
No. 1 Wichita State over No. 5 UNI
No. 2 Creighton over No. 3 Evansville
No. 1 Wichita State over No. 2 Creighton
Missouri Valley Champion: Wichita State (29-4, 5 seed in NCAA tournament)
The Final Buzzer
If we are fortunate enough to see a No. 24 Creighton vs No. 14 Wichita State Championship, we could be looking at the best Mid-Major conference championship game. Creighton has not been playing their basketball as of late, but a conference championship could really propel their confidence heading into the tournament. As I see it now though, Wichita State is just too good. They dismantled the Jays two weeks ago by 21 points and have won 16 of their last 17 overall.
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