By: Sammy Stava
It’s that time of year. The regular season is over, and the 2020 State Farm Missouri Valley Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket is officially set, and it begins on Thursday evening. And for the 30th consecutive season, it is being held in St. Louis – which is the second longest running conference tournament in the same city, only behind the Big East. Back on November 4th, the Missouri Valley announced that they are extending their contract in St. Louis through the 2024 season.
This is why they call it “Arch Madness” and it once again should be a thrilling event as 10 teams compete for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Three teams come into this tournament with 20+ wins and seven teams in this league have an overall winning record.
And with that, here’s a team-by-team preview of the field:
1. Northern Iowa (25-5, 14-4 MVC): The regular season champions are the only team being discussed for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid, and deservingly so. Many believe that the Panthers need to advance to the Championship Game to get that at-large berth, but it’s fair to say that UNI has made a compelling case already. Currently ranked in the Top 40 of the NET (37th) and KenPom (39th) along with notable non-conference wins against Colorado and South Carolina, plus an undefeated 16-0 home record is a resume certainly worthy of the NCAA Tournament. Per usual, Ben Jacobson has done another terrific coaching job with this group and sophomore AJ Green is a serious candidate for MVC Player of the Year. The Panthers will be facing a lot of pressure this weekend as Northern Iowa is certainly the team to beat.
2. Loyola (21-10, 13-5 MVC): The Ramblers just missed out on the MVC regular season title, but Porter Moser and company still put together a successful season. Winners of six out of their last seven to end the regular season, Loyola is certainly getting hot at the right time into postseason play. Led by Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson, Loyola still has some of the championship pedigree from the Final Four team, which should make them a tough out as if they weren’t already.
3. Indiana State (18-11, 11-7 MVC): Head coach Greg Lansing and the Sycamores earned the No. 3 seed by winning four straight to end the regular season. It is also St. Louis native and senior guard Jordan Barnes’ last go-around here at Arch Madness. Junior guard Tyreke Key leads the team with 15.8 PPG and it’s an impressive backcourt as Indiana State has the potential to get hot as they rank 10th in the country in three-point field goal percentage. Indiana State last won the MVC Tournament Championship in 2011…also as a No. 3 seed.
4. Bradley (20-11, 11-7 MVC): The defending MVC Tournament Champions have earned a top four seed. And for the third consecutive season, head coach Brian Wardle has led the Braves to a 20-win season. Wardle still has some key contributors from that championship team including seniors Darrell Brown, Nate Kennell, Koch Bar, and junior Elijah Childs. That core group will need to step up big this weekend in hopes of a repeat performance.
5. Southern Illinois (16-15, 10-8 MVC): Picked to finish last in the preseason poll, the Salukis wound up with the No. 5 seed, and that is certainly worth MVC Coach of the Year consideration for first year head coach Bryan Mullins. The future is certainly bright in Carbondale with Mullins at the helm. Marcus Domask has also got to be in the running for MVC Freshman of the Year, averaging 13.8 PPG. However, after a seven-game winning streak from January 19th to February 8th, the Salukis lost six out of their last seven games to end the regular season. If Southern Illinois is to make a deep run, their senior trio of Aaron Cook, Eric McGill, and Barret Benson will need to lead the way.
6. Missouri State (15-16, 9-9): Expectations wise, it was a disappointing season in Springfield in Dana Ford’s second year as the Bears were picked to win the league in the preseason. Missouri State has the talent, but it just hasn’t come together. The Bears did just enough to avoid playing on Thursday, and that could potentially make a difference. If they have one last chance to live up to their preseason potential, seniors Keandre Cook, Tulio Da Silva, and Lamont West will need to come up big.
7. Valparaiso (16-15, 9-9 MVC): In their third season as a Missouri Valley member, the Crusaders will enter MVC Tournament play with a winning overall record for the first time. In each season, head coach Matt Lottich has improved Valpo’s conference win total. Sophomore star Javon Freeman-Liberty, averaging 19.3 PPG has the potential to take over games, but he has unfortunately been out the last few games due to mononucleosis. The Crusaders will need him healthy in order to make a deep run. Look for Ryan Fazekas to step up if Freeman-Liberty can’t go.
8. Drake (18-10, 8-11 MVC): After winning the MVC regular season title last year, the Bulldogs took a step back this year winding up with the No. 8 seed. Head coach Darian DeVries won MVC Coach of the Year in 2019 and led Drake to a strong 5-3 start in conference play this season, but the Bulldogs are just 3-7 in their last 10 games. Drake is averaging only 52 PPG during their three-game losing streak heading into tournament. Looking to turn things around, they’ll need the core group of Liam Robbins, Roman Penn, D.J. Wilkins, and the Murphy twins (Anthony and Tremell) firing on all cylinders to create an offensive spark.
9. Illinois State (10-20, 5-13 MVC): It’s been a challenging season for Dan Muller after losing seniors Milik Yarbrough, Phil Fayne, Keyshawn Evans, and William Tinsley last season. The Redbirds actually started conference play this season with a win over regular season champion Northern Iowa, but couldn’t quite build off of it. Looking for some momentum heading into this tournament, Illinois State has won two out of their last three games. If they want to keep things going, they’re going to have to rely heavily on guard Zach Copeland, just one of three seniors on this team who is averaging 14.6 PPG.
10. Evansville (9-22, 0-18 MVC): It’s been a very tough year for the Aces, who have gone winless in conference play and went through a midseason coaching change. But remember, this was the team that beat then No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena back on November 12th. Six of Evansville’s MVC losses have been decided by single digits, including a 81-79 (OT) and 67-65 defeat to Valparaiso, who they will see on Thursday evening for a third meeting. Interim head coach Todd Lickliter and the Aces come into this one eager for a win with certainly nothing lose, playing with house money. If Evansville has any hopes of keeping their season alive, they’ll need a big performance from their senior guard K.J. Riley.
And here it is: the tournament bracket, which was released on early Sunday morning.
And for the fourth straight season, The Big 550 KTRS is your radio home for Arch Madness coverage in St. Louis. “The madness is almost here… Arch Madness on The Big 550 KTRS!”