Missouri Valley Conference Wrapup & Tourney PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2009
Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the MVC and Big 12 Conferences. He will be reporting from the MVC Tournament this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Missouri Valley Conference finished regular season play this last week with Northern Iowa and Creighton sharing the MVC regular season crown. Due to the complicated tie-breaker formula, Northern Iowa received the 1-seed for the MVC Tournament and Creighton the 2nd. My preseason predictions weren’t exactly what happened, but like the whole bizarre Valley season usually is, the middle was all muddled up. No one expected Northern Iowa to be as good as they were in conference play and at the same time, it wasn’t expected to see Southern Illinois take such a nosedive so fast in the past two seasons.
The MVC released their postseason awards on Tuesday with Booker Woodfox from Creighton getting the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year honors. Woodfox leads the nation in 3-point shooting at 50.9% and averaged almost 16 points a game. Champ Oguchi from Illinois St. received the Newcomer of the Year award. I’m a little surprised that Bryan Mullins won the Defensive Player of the Year honors when he missed almost the whole last half of the conference season. Maybe it is a lifetime award or something.
This Thursday night starts what is affectionately known as Arch Madness. I will be down in St. Louis covering things for Rush The Court with a planned RTC Live for at least one game each day starting Friday and other daily updates. I will also have all-access to the postgame news conferences and other media information. If you have things you want me to check out or have questions for the coaches or players – but I won’t be the guy that got kicked out of the Creighton game last weekend—then be sure to ask.
Let’s take a look at the matchups starting on Thursday:
The Valley’s play-in games on Thursday night match Drake-Indiana St. and Wichita St.-Missouri St. Indiana St. and Wichita St. are two teams that looked like they were going to fight Missouri St. for the bottom of the league. However, while Indiana St. started 2-10 and Wichita St. started 0-6 in conference play, both teams have looked a lot different as the regular season came to a close. Indiana St. won 6 out of their last 7 games and Wichita St. finished 9-4 the rest of the way including a win against Creighton. With Missouri St. losing 6 out of their last 7 and Drake losing 4 of their last 6 games, it seems to make sense that the Sycamores and Shockers will advance to the Quarterfinals against Northern Iowa and Creighton.
Northern Iowa and Creighton both have the advantage of playing teams that may already be tired from the night before. That could be a good thing and a bad thing. The play-in teams had a game the night before and their nerves are out of their system while the top seeds may still have some nerves. In addition, both the Bluejays and Panthers appear to be going in different directions. Creighton has won 10 straight games and is sitting right on the cusp of being able to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament while Northern Iowa has gone 3-4 in their last 7 games heading into Arch Madness. Creighton struggled at Wichita St. in their last matchup and have revenge on their minds. Northern Iowa has struggled a bit in both games with Indiana St. losing to them to start the conference season in OT, but then reeled off 11 wins in a row. However, I see both of the top seeds overcoming the nerves to advance to the semifinals. Both teams have worked too hard to fall in these matchups.
In the other quarterfinal matchups, Bradley-Southern Illinois is an intriguing matchup only for the fact that many probably didn’t expect Southern Illinois to struggle so much this season. This game will be our RTC Live game on Friday afternoon. The Salukis are trying to overcome their youth and loss of team leader Bryan Mullins and go for their only chance left at the postseason–something they haven’t missed in the last 10 years. Bradley has been up and down all season and I had expected them to be better than they were only because, outside of Dana Altman from Creighton, Jim Les is the coach that has been with a Valley team the longest and thought he had appeared to establish a consistent program. Injuries have plagued them as well as SIU, so it will be interesting to see who is left standing, but I think the Bradley experience will oust the Saluki youth.
Illinois St. and Evansville boast two players on each squad that, when they are both on fire, they are very tough to stop. Illinois St. boasts Osiris Eldridge and Champ Oguchi while Evansville counters with Shy Ely and Jason Holsinger. Eldridge and Oguchi are a 1-2 punch that are not afraid to take shots. Ely led the league in scoring this season while Holsinger is the active leader in career 3-pointers. This could turn into a two-man game, but Illinois St. should prevail and in the weird season of the Valley, one other unusual thing will happen….the top 4 seeds advancing to the semis.
Creighton probably hopes it does not have to matchup with Illinois St. in this one since they are 1-4 against the Redbirds in the last 5 meetings. Playing 3 games in 3 days is a bit of a challenge and depth is a key to winning these types of tournaments. Creighton has 10 players that average more than 13 minutes a game with only the top end averaging around 26 minutes a game. Illinois St. on the other hand has only 7 players averaging over 13 minutes a game and other than Dinma Odiakosa (25 MPG), the other starters play over 30 minutes a game. Depth will be the key in this one and Creighton will win out.
Northern Iowa and Bradley could really be interesting. Beating a team three times in one season is a really tough thing to do. Northern Iowa has already beaten Bradley twice. However, this time, Bradley will have the Panthers’ number. UNI has had some magic this year, but not the Drake magic and not enough left in the tank to make the finals. The other thing to note – other than last season when Drake won the MVC tourney as the #1 seed, the last #1 seed to win the league tourney was Illinois St. in 1998. The top-seeded team has won the tournament 11 out of 32 times, but only 4 times in the 18 years the tourney has been in St. Louis. Not good numbers for Northern Iowa.
Finals—Creighton vs. Bradley
As mentioned before, it is hard to beat a team 3 times in the same season and I said Northern Iowa cannot do it. So, why would I say that Creighton can? Very simple. St. Louis and the Valley Tournament has sometimes been called the “Creighton Invitational.” 6 out of the last 10 MVC conference tournaments have been won by Creighton. Dana Altman has a way to get players focused on the three games in three days and the drive to not be one of those teams that has to sit on their hands and hope they get an at-large bid. Guaranteeing an entry in to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tourney is the only way in for sure. Unfortunately, if Creighton wins the tourney, the Valley will probably be another one-bid league for the 2nd year in a row. If Bradley pulls off the win, the Valley may get 2 teams in. But I think Creighton has enough going for itself at this point to again come out as the MVC Tournament Champion.
See you in St. Louis and feel free to let us know what you want to know about the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.