2020 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Predictions and Betting Odds
Arch Madness, also known as the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, marks the unofficial beginning of March Madness. As one of the first significant conference tournaments, the MVC tourney gives fans and bettors their first taste of the chaos that accompanies one of the wildest betting months of the season.
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament take place from March 5-8 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Here is Doc's Sports 2020 West Coast Conference preview and predictions, with my own projected odds:
The Favorite: Northern Iowa (-120)
The Panthers have been by far the best and most consistent team in The Valley this year. As always, they relied on a stifling defense and a controlled pace to wear teams down. The surprise aspect of this team is a devastating offense that averaged 75.8 points per game. NIU is No. 12 in the country in field goal shooting and No. 4 in 3-point shooting, making nearly 40 percent of their shots from deep. This is also a bit of an unusual NIU team in that they have almost zero depth. Ben Jacobsen teams usually go 8-10 players deep. But Northern Iowa really only plays six guys, with four of their starters averaging more than 32 points per game. They would need to win three games in three days, so that lack of depth could be a major weakness.
The Contender: Loyola Chicago (+300)
The Ramblers are still dining out on their miracle run to the Final Four two seasons ago. This is a very different team, though, with Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson the only players who contributed for that Final Four team. Krutwig is one of the best passers in the country, and the 6-9 center can take over games with his offensive efficiency. Like Northern Iowa, The Ramblers are in the Top 15 in field goal shooting and also in the Top 40 in 3-point shooting. The problem for them is that they are nearly solely dependent on Krutwig. If he wears down over the weekend or gets in foul trouble in one of the game then this team is vulnerable.
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The Dark Horse: Bradley (+350)
Bradley is the defending tournament champions and they have four starters back from the squad that earned the league's automatic bid last March. Brian Wardle has guided the Braves to 20 wins for the third straight season, and this team has one of the best inside-out duos in the league in Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs. Seniors Nate Kennell and Koch Bar are the other two seasoned vets for this team, and Bradley is another team currently in the Top 40 in 3-point field goal shooting (No. 27 at 37.1 percent). They also hold opponents below 40 percent from the field and are capable of grinding teams down on both ends of the court. They have already lost to Northern Iowa twice this year, and they beat the Panthers last year in the tournament final. If Bradley holds off SIU in the quarters, that could set up a big-time semifinal matchup with NIU.
The Spoiler: Missouri State (+450)
One of the preseason favorites to win The Valley, Missouri State has been a huge disappointment. Their team is comprised of several transfers, and this team just never seemed to gel this year. They have shown signs of life down the stretch, winning four of their last six and blasting Loyola on Feb. 22. This is a very experienced team, with seniors Keandre Cook, Lamont West and Tulio Da Silva looking to extend their careers. Big man Gaige Prim can play with any of the frontcourt players in this league. But they haven't made their free throws as a team, and they turn the ball over too much. Still, they are as physically talented and as experienced as anyone in this tournament and have the potential to make some noise in the bottom of the bracket.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 3 Indiana State (-1.5) vs. No. 6 Missouri State (8:30 p.m., Friday, March 6)
Indiana State enters the NCAA Tournament with a bit of momentum, winning four straight games (including a home win over Northern Iowa). The Sycamores are yet another team in this league that can get hot in a hurry from deep, finishing the regular season No. 10 in the country in 3-point shooting. Indiana State struggles defensively, and they really struggle outside of their home gym. But they have enough shooters that they could get on a roll and make a run to the finals. Ironically enough, these two teams split the regular season meetings with each team winning on the opponents' home court. These are two potentially dangerous teams in this tournament; Missouri State because of their talent and experience and Indiana State because of their shooting. The winner here should give Loyola a dogfight in the semifinals, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the winner of this matchup storm to the finals.
Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Predictions: If you are looking for end-to-end action and high-scoring, open-court basketball, then the Missouri Valley Tournament is definitely not for you. These games are always a grind, with the scores generally played in the 50's. This year may be a bit different because of the caliber of shooters heading to St. Louis. Regardless, this is always a lot of fun because the crowd is great and the games are always extremely competitive.
Even though they are the favorite and they have been the best team in the regular season, I don't think that Northern Iowa is going to win this tournament. Bradley would be a brutal opponent in the semifinals, and then either Loyola, ISU or Missouri State would be lurking in the championship game. I think that Northern Iowa's lack of depth is going to catch up with them this weekend. Add in the fact that there are so many other teams that can get hot for a few days from behind the 3-point line, and I think that either Bradley or the winner of the ISU-MSU game will steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning this title.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 11 of 13 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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