By: Sammy Stava
The regular season has come to an end, which means it’s time for the Missouri Valley Tournament, and Arch Madness should once again live up to the name. While the MVC may only be a one-bid league this season, it should provide plenty of drama for all teams competing for the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. For the first time in the conference’s 111-year history, the league champion has at least six losses, which just goes to show how competitive The Valley has been all season long. It all begins on Thursday, so here’s a preview of each team leading up to the action:
No. 1 seed Loyola (19-12, 12-6 MVC): After their Final Four run a season ago, the Ramblers have repeated as MVC regular season champions looking for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1962-1964 (won National Championship and lost regional semifinal). It hasn’t been the easiest road this year for head coach Porter Moser dealing with an injury to Lucas Williamson, but he’s returned for their last two games and is a full-go. With their postseason experience and senior leaders in Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, the Ramblers are one of the favorites to cut down the nets.
Loyola gets the winner of 8/9 Indiana State vs Valparaiso Friday at noon.
No. 2 seed Drake (23-8, 12-6 MVC): One of the best coaching jobs in the country that no one is talking about goes to first-year head coach Darian DeVries. Picked to finish ninth in the preseason, all the Bulldogs have done is finish with the best overall record in the conference and grabbed a share of the MVC regular season title. For just the sixth time in program history, Drake has recorded a 20-win season. Unfortunately, with a season-ending ankle injury to freshman D.J. Wilkins, the Bulldogs are going to have to rely heavily on MVC Player of the Year candidate Nick McGlynn if they’re going to win their first MVC Tournament Championship since 2007-2008.
Drake awaits the winner of 7/10 Illinois State vs Evansville Friday at 6:00 p.m.
No. 3 seed Southern Illinois (17-14, 10-8 MVC): Barry Hinson’s Salukis are the league’s hottest team and have a lot of momentum heading into Arch Madness. They’ve won three straight and four out of their last five games. Led by seniors Kavion Pippett and Armon Fletcher, SIU has a lot of talent on this roster to compete for a tournament championship. Six of Southern Illinois’ eight conference losses have been by single digits, and playing a tough non-conference (Kentucky and Buffalo twice) may help them come postseason play.
Southern Illinois is set to play Northern Iowa in the 3/6 game Friday at 8:30 p.m.
No. 4 seed Missouri State (16-15, 10-8 MVC): Another first-year head coach that deserves a ton of credit is Dana Ford. Picked to finish eighth in the preseason, Missouri State just fell a couple of games short of an MVC regular season title. Having swept Loyola this season, it makes them a compelling dark-horse to win the whole thing. Highlighted by Jarred Dixon’s half-court game-winning buzzer beater on February 10th, the Bears hope to provide plenty of more dramatics at Arch Madness.
Missouri State gets Bradley in the 4/5 game Friday at 2:30 p.m.
No. 5 seed Bradley (17-14, 9-9 MVC): Brian Wardle’s team recovered nicely after an 0-4 start to conference play to earn a No. 5 seed. For the first time since 2008-2010, Bradley has recorded back-to-back winning season. The Braves can be a dangerous out with a dynamic duo of Darrell Brown and Elijah Childs.
No. 6 seed Northern Iowa (14-17, 9-9 MVC): Ben Jacobson keeps doing Ben Jacobson things at Northern Iowa. After once being 5-7 in league play, the Panthers won four straight from February 13th-23rd which may very well have kept them out of the Thursday play-in games. If UNI is going to make a serious run, freshman guard AJ Green is going to have to carry this team, which he is capable of doing.
No. 7 seed Illinois State (16-15, 9-9 MVC): It’s been a disappointing season so far for Dan Muller and the Redbirds but don’t let their record fool you. This team is still talented and has the potential to make a run. A senior trio of Keyshawn Evans, Phil Fayne, and Milik Yarbrough has been to the MVC Tournament Championship in back-to-back seasons but playing on Thursday will make it that much harder to do it three years in a row.
Illinois State faces off vs Evansville in the 7/10 game Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
No. 8 seed Indiana State (15-15, 7-11 MVC): Greg Lansing and the Sycamores didn’t envision playing on Thursday, but a talented backcourt is exactly what they need come tournament time if they want to steal a couple of games. MVC’s leading scorer Tyreke Key and CBC alum Jordan Barnes will hope for a long stay in St. Louis.
Indiana State tips-off vs Valparaiso in the 8/9 game Thursday at 6:00 p.m.
No. 9 seed Valparaiso (14-17, 7-11 MVC): In their second year as members of the league, Valpo is searching for their first win in the MVC Tournament, and they’ll try to do it against their in-state rival to open up Arch Madness. Looking to replicate what Loyola has done as fairly new members in the league, the Crusaders have the potential to do so with their rich basketball tradition. As for this season, head coach Matt Lottich is going to need Bakari Evelyn and Javon Freeman to replace Ryan Fazekas’ injury if they want to go on a deep run.
No. 10 seed Evansville (11-20, 5-13 MVC): A rough first year for head coach Walter McCarty has the Aces at the bottom of the league. However, two of Evansville’s five conference wins have come against Drake and Loyola, which just goes to show that all 10 teams can beat anybody on any given night in this league. Leading scorer K.J. Riley is going to have to step up big if the Aces want to prove that.
? THE BRACKET IS HERE ?
— MVC Basketball (@ValleyHoops) March 3, 2019
And for the third consecutive season, 550 KTRS will have the radio coverage in St. Louis for the MVC Tournament. “The Madness is almost here…Arch Madness on The Big 550 KTRS.”