2007 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

2007 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

2007 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 02/27/2007

It's time for a little Arch Madness.

The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament tips off on Thursday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The March to the Arch during the regular season in the nation's most heralded mid-Major conference gave us plenty of information on these MVC clubs. But now it's time to put that knowledge into practice during this four-day run through what should be an outstanding tournament.

As these MVC teams prepare to walk through the valley of the shadow of the death of their season they should fear no evil. But they should fear Southern Illinois.

The Salukis have tore up an otherwise strong conference, humiliating their MVC brethren with suffocating defense, rock solid guard play and an intensity and focus that leaves them as legitimate Final Four contenders. Southern Illinois rolled to a 15-3 conference record and swept four games against the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in The Valley. They are currently ranked No. 11 in both major polls.

But just because the Salukis are the big dogs, that doesn't mean they'll cut down the nets. The top seed in the Missouri Valley Conference has won just 10 of a possible 30 tournament championships. Only three times in the last 16 years - the duration that the postseason event has been held in St. Louis - has the regular season champ also won the postseason crown. The last team to do so was Illinois State back in 1998.

In fact, the last three seasons the regular season champion hasn't even made it to the tournament championship game.

So there is hope for The Others. And for teams like Wichita State and Southwest Missouri State, NCAA Tournament lives are at stake. While both would assuredly find their way into the NIT, they both have bigger goals. Especially Missouri State. Last year SWMS became the team with the highest RPI ever to be left out of the NCAA Tournament.

Here's a look at how things should shake down out in The Valley:

THE FAVORITE:
Southern Illinois - If you don't know about the Salukis by now then just stop reading this article and go back to Sudoku. The Salukis have been one of the best dozen teams in the entire country this year and have dominated The Valley. The top seed has an excellent draw and should walk into the finals without breaking a sweat. They are the defending champions, having won three games last year by an average of 13 points.

I think they'll have their hands full with whoever survived the bottom of the bracket, but I think SIU will claim at least two more wins and lock up a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the Big Dance.

THE CONTENDERS:

Creighton - The Blue Jays have won more tournament titles than any other team (nine) and have claimed three of the last five in St. Louis. They are also the No. 2 seed, which has been the most successful position in conference tourney history (12 titles, .746 total winning percentage). Coach Dana Altman is a mastermind when it comes to tourney preparation and I think that the Blue Jays have an excellent shot at earning title No. 10. Creighton was 5-4 this year on the road in MVC play, which is respectable. The Jays did lose to both of their possible quarterfinal opponents (Indiana State and Illinois State), but were 4-0 against the spread against possible semis opponents Southwest Missouri State or Wichita State.

SW Missouri State - As long as the Bears don't have to play Creighton or SIU for the title they should be OK. The trouble is, it's almost guaranteed that SWMS will meet at least one of those clubs, which they're 0-4 SU and ATS against. That's bad news. The good news is that the Bears play excellent team basketball, are 9-5 ATS on the road this year, and will hopefully still be playing with a chip on their shoulder from last year's NCAA snub. They may need two wins to earn a berth this year so look for their best ball to be played.

THE SLEEPERS:

Wichita State - Look, I'm over the Shockers. They have won exactly one meaningful game since Dec. 3 and are 5-16 ATS in their last 21 outings. No team lower than a No. 5 seed has ever won this tournament and the No. 6 seed has the worst winning percentage of any in the tournament (3-30 overall, .090 percent). Oh yeah, and the No. 6 team is just 1-16 in the last 17 years. Ouch. But the Shockers do still have some talent and could, in theory, get hot and be a fly in the ointment.

Northern Iowa - This is the exact opposite of the Wichita call. I actually think UNI isn't any good. But the No. 5 seed has found itself in the championship game in four of the last six games. I'm sure that's a worthless trend, but it warrants sleeper consideration. That, and the fact that with Grant Stout and Eric Coleman they have a pair of talented, veteran big men.

MATCHUPS:
No. 8 Evansville vs. No. 9 Drake - The No. 9 seed has beaten the No. 8 seed in six of the last eight years. Drake won at home over Evansville by just three points a week ago, but got blown out by 21 back in December.

No. 7 Illinois State vs. No. 10 Indiana State - Illinois State has gone 9-2-1 ATS lately and has won three of their last four games, all by double digits. One of those was a 15-point bludgeoning at Indiana State. The Sycamores have lost 13 of 14 and are basically a dead stick.

No. 4 Bradley vs. No. 5 Northern Iowa - I think that both of these teams are awful, but somebody has to win. NIU swept the season series, winning by nine and 11 points, but I still look for Bradley to be a small favorite here.

No. 3 SW Missouri State vs. No. 6 Wichita State - This should be an interesting game because both teams are in full-blown Desperation Mode. Of course, because I said that it's probably going to be a blowout one way or another.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
The Wichita State-SW Missouri game and the following game where the winner likely will face Creighton will both be outstanding contests. I just wonder if the winner will be hitting their stride or will be out of gas by the time they face SIU in the finals. The Salukis really do have a cakewalk into the championship game - but be careful about laying double-digit numbers in their first two games. SIU isn't really a blowout kind of team. In the end I think that the Salukis cut down the nets and wrap up a solid No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. If it's not SIU it will be Creighton.

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