2015 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/2/2015
Arch Madness is, in my mind, the unofficial start of March Madness. With all due respect to the Big South, Atlantic Sun and Patriot League, the Missouri Valley is the first respectable conference to hold their title game and to crown a champion that poses a threat to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
The Missouri Valley Conference tournament tips off on Thursday, March 5, with a pair of super-quarterfinal games. The winners advance to the quarterfinals played on Friday, March 6, with the semifinals on Friday. The championship game will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The Missouri Valley Tournament has been held in St. Louis every March since 1991. For the 10th straight season it will take place in the Scottrade Center in downtown St. Louis.
Here is Doc's Sports Missouri Valley Conference Tournament picks, with my projected odds to win the league title:
The Favorite: Wichita State (-185)
Wichita State is the clear class of this conference and one of the best teams in the country. They are currently ranked No. 8 nationally, and they are looking for back-to-back tournament titles for the first time in school history. Wichita State is an amazing 66-5 straight up in their last 71 games, dating back to their 2013 Final Four run. They boast perhaps the best backcourt in the country with Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton each doing serious damage on both ends of the court. Baker is the best all-around player of the bunch, but in my opinion Cotton, the only senior of the three, is the key guy. His 3-point shooting has waned, and he needs to be a factor for this team to continue to dominate The Valley. He was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player last year and needs to find that form again. Just one league team, Northern Iowa on Jan. 31, has beaten the Shockers in the past two seasons (38-1), and this team is the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets on Sunday.
The Contender: Northern Iowa (+115)
Ben Jacobsen's team has been one of the best mid-major groups in the country this year while going 27-3. They had won 16 straight games before a loss at Wichita State last Saturday, and Northern Iowa has been a staple of the Top 25 for the past month. (They are currently No. 12.) The Panthers are in the Top 30 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and big man Seth Tuttle has been a force in the paint. As always, Jacobsen's team's great strengths are its depth and its defense. Nine guys log at least 13 minutes per game, and Tuttle is the only player who plays more than 30. (He plays 30:04.) This is advantageous in tournament settings because UNI won't wear down playing three games in three days. The Panthers will have to overcome some dreadful recent history, though. They have not won a single tournament game in the past four years after winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
The Sleeper: Indiana State (+1400)
It might be tough for the Sycamores to put together a run this week considering they haven't won or lost two straight games since mid-January. Indiana State has alternated wins and losses in each of its last 12 games and, unfortunately for them, they are coming off a win at Bradley last weekend. But Indiana State has had some success in this tournament the past four years, winning at least one game each time. ISU won this title back in 2011, and they made it to the championship game last year before falling to Wichita State. They will have to battle with a scrappy Loyola team in the quarterfinals. But if Indiana State wins they are definitely a threat to knock off Northern Iowa in the semifinals. Indiana State lost the two regular-season meetings. But they have won four of the last seven with the Panthers, and six of those seven games were decided by six points or less.
The Spoiler: Illinois State (+1000)
I should correct this to tab the winner of the Illinois State-Evansville quarterfinal as the spoiler. But since Illinois State is favored they get the edge. According to Team Rankings, the Redbirds are the third-most-likely team to cut down the nets in St. Louis with a scant six percent chance. But they could pose at least a threat to Wichita State in the semifinals. Illinois State lost by just eight points and six points in their two games against the Shockers this year, and they have the athleticism to play Wichita straight up. ISU has two of the top six scorers in the league in Daishon Knight and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, and they could be game for an upset.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Illinois State (-4.5) vs. No. 5 Evansville (2:30 p.m., Friday, March 6)
This is my projected spread. These two teams just played a tough overtime game on Saturday, with Illinois State picking up a 69-67 victory in Evansville. They scored with 1.7 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime, and Knight buried a jumper with 2.3 seconds left in OT for the win. That victory completed a series sweep for the Redbirds, who won by 26 in the first meeting. Evansville will be very difficult to beat in back-to-back games, though. The Purple Aces haven't played up to their capabilities this year, but they have the league's leading scorer in D.J. Balentine as well as one of its big men in center Egidijus Mockevicius. Three of the last four meetings between these two teams have gone to overtime, and I can't see anything but a back-and-forth coin-flip affair this time around.
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Picks: It's impossible to bet against Wichita State. They've won 38 of 39 league games, for crying out loud, and they have the best guard play. They just slapped Northern Iowa on Sunday, and the Shockers have played much better against a better schedule. The Shockers do have a weakness, though: they really play only six or seven guys, and their three guards log a ton of minutes. This group could be tired come Sunday afternoon. I think that both of the semifinal games are going to be vicious as Indiana State (if they advance) just seems to always play Northern Iowa tough and whoever escapes the Illinois State-Evansville quarterfinal is good enough to test Wichita. The top two teams in this tournament very rarely meet in the championship game. So I will call for one of the top two seeds to get upset before the championships. That said, there shouldn't be a bid stolen from this conference. Wichita State and Northern Iowa are still clearly the best two teams. Their bids to the NCAA Tournament are secure. And I see one of those two cutting down the nets on Sunday.
Robert Ferringo keeps proving himself to be one of the best college basketball handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted 11 of 16 winning college hoops weeks and 17 of 20 winning college hoops months. He has banked nearly $10,000 in profit with his side plays this year and almost $17,000 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert's college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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