Time for a little Arch Madness. For the 20th straight year the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament tips off Thursday in St. Louis with everyone chasing top-seeded and 25th-ranked Northern Iowa.
Unfortunately for Northern Iowa, the Missouri Valley tournament has been fairly predictable. And the No. 1 seed hasn’t had as much luck as you would think.
Since the conference tournament moved to St. Louis in 1991 the No. 2 seed has won seven titles and the No. 3 seed has taken five compared to just five from the top seed. The No. 1 seed has won it all the last two years (Drake in 2008 and Northern Iowa in 2009) but prior to that the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds held a 12-3 title edge.
Also, Creighton has dominated in St. Louis, winning 10 of 29 league titles. Southern Illinois is next in line with five titles, meaning that those two programs have accounted for half of the banners over the last three decades. Northern Iowa cut down the nets last year, but that was just the school’s second tourney title.
Here’s a preview and predictions for the 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament:
Northern Iowa – It’s been a record-setting year for the defending MVC conference tournament champs. They have set new school marks for overall and conference wins and are the most experienced and most talented team in the league. But the Panthers look like they let off the gas a bit down the stretch and don’t come into the tourney with much momentum. The suspension of Jordan Eglseder threw this group for a loop, but he was fine in his first game back (61-55 win over Illinois State). They have five seniors and even though they have already done enough to earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament they’ll be hyped to repeat as champs. They are the top defensive team in the league and posted an impressive +7.3 scoring margin in conference games. But an Achilles Heel – and it’s a big one – is that they are the worst shooting team in the league and prone to long scoring droughts.
Wichita State – The Shockers held off Illinois State for the second slot and have already beaten top-seeded Northern Iowa once. But The Shockers are just 1-2 in their last three games and 3-3 in their last six, including a weak OT win against Evansville and a two-point squeaker against Missouri State. They finished No. 2 in the league in scoring defense and are No. 2 in shooting (from the field and from deep). They also have one of the deeper benches in the conference so they shouldn’t wear down if they play through the weekend.
Illinois State – A somewhat enigmatic team, the Redbirds have been as hot as anyone heading into St. Louis. They are 6-1 in their last seven games and the one loss was that tight one at Northern Iowa. Leading scorer Osiris Eldridge is the best scorer in the league and forward Dinma Odiakosa is paired with him to form one of the most athletic duos in The Valley. They don’t shoot the ball well from deep and are No. 9 in the league in FT percentage (a still-respectable 70.5 percent), which may catch up with them, but this team will be a tough out if Eldridge is hot.
Creighton – It’s been a real shaky and somewhat disappointing season for Dana Altman’s group. But the fact that the Blue Jays have won twice as many conference tournaments (10) as the next best program means that they’ll be a player in this dance. The trouble is that only one No. 4 seed has ever run the table in St. Louis. That team: Creighton in 2000. All that said, I don’t see the Blue Jays with enough on either end to duplicate that feat.
Indiana State – First, the bad news. No team seeded lower than No. 5 has ever won this tournament and only twice (in 33 years) has a team seeded lower than No. 3 cut down the nets. But it doesn’t mean that ISU can’t muck up the works a bit. This team has dealt with injuries, suspensions, and all manner of distraction this year. But they just welcomed back their top two scorers (Harry Marshall and Dwayne Lathan) and they shoot enough threes where they can cause some troubles.
No. 8 Drake (13-18) vs. No. 9 Southern Illinois (15-14) (6 p.m., Thursday, March 4)
A client e-mailed me this week and tried to tell me that the Salukis have quit on this year. Take that for what its worth. But what is real is SIU’s 6-12 mark since Jan. 2. Drake has lost six of eight games so it’s not as if they have any more momentum. This is an un-watchable game.
No. 7 Missouri State (19-11) vs. No. 10 Evansville (9-20) (8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 4)
Missouri State is 3-0 in tournament history against Evansville and they swept the season series by 14 and by 10 points. This is also a matchup of the No. 1 scoring offense in the league (MSU) against the worst scoring defense in the league. The Aces stink and are clearly the worst team in the league, losing 14 straight games at one point this year. But they have won three of six, including wins over Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
No. 4 Creighton (16-14) vs. No. 5 Bradley (15-14) (2:30 p.m., Friday, March 5)
At 4-3 Bradley is the only team in the conference with a winning record against Creighton in the tournament. These two played in the conference finale last Saturday, with Creighton winning at home by 11. That was the sixth straight win in the series for the Blue Jays, who have dominated the Arch.
No. 3 Illinois State vs. No. 6 Indiana State (8:30 p.m., Friday, March 5)
Only twice in the last 19 years (and just four times in the last 33) has the No. 6 seed beaten the No. 3 seed. It’s pretty unlikely here, especially given ISU’s troubles away from home. But Indiana State has won three of four meetings, including a sweep last year when ISU was wretched and Illinois State was a top Valley team. Indiana State is 6-3 against the Redbirds since 2007 and they just kind of have their number.
No. 2 Wichita State (23-8) vs. Missouri State/Evansville (6 p.m., Friday, March 5)
Evansville upset Wichita State in their first meeting this year so the Shockers may want another crack. Wichita State did sweep Missouri State but the two games were decided by three and by two points. Only one time in the last 20 years (1998) has the No. 2 seed lost in its first game.
No. 1 Northern Iowa (25-4) vs. Drake/Southern Illinois (Noon, Friday, March 5)
In the 29-year history of The Valley there have been only four repeat champions in the tournament. And no one has done that since Creighton took four of five crowns from 1999-2003. They should handle their business in this game. The No. 1 seed has never been upset in the first round in this conference.
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