Men's Arch Madness
If you’re a college basketball fan, you know that the best time of the year is almost here: March Madness. Yes, that’s right. It’s Feb. 20, which means conference tournaments are quickly approaching. So, how are things going to shake out in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC)? Well, it’s a good thing your friendly neighborhood Sports Editor is on the beat. For the first time in history, the State Farm MVC tournament will feature all 12 teams in the conference instead of the top 10. Based on the current Valley standings, let’s predict how things are going to go in this year’s Arch Madness conference tournament.
12. University of Evansville
It’s been a long season for Evansville fans this year. Under first-year head coach David Ragland the Purple Aces have secured a lone conference victory. It took a while, but on Feb. 8, Evansville took down Northern Iowa by a 12 point margin. I don’t expect Evansville to make it past the first round in this year’s tournament, but with a young roster and a new head coach, the future could look much better than the present.
11. University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)
UIC hasn’t had a great first year in the Valley. The Flames’ two conference wins on the season came against Illinois State and Evansville, teams who share spots with them at the bottom of the standings. The Flames’ Achilles’ heel this year has been their inability to take care of the basketball; they’ve turned the ball over at the second highest rate in the league. Like the Purple Aces, UIC is winless in MVC away games, which doesn’t bode well for the tournament. The Flames will likely exit in the first round of action.
10. Illinois State
Illinois State’s recent losing skid isn’t promising with tournament time around the corner. The Redbirds opened their conference season with three straight losses and are back to their old ways this February. However, the Redbirds did manage to take down Southern Illinois and lost to Bradley in overtime by just four points. Darius Burford has led the way for Illinois State, averaging 12.04 points per game, but otherwise Illinois State doesn’t have much other offensive firepower. Add on a 1-7 record in away games and it looks like the Redbirds will be out after the first round of Arch Madness action.
9. Valparaiso University
Our very own Beacons have had some bright moments this season, but at times it has been a rocky road. Still, the good moments Valpo has had this year are enough to provide some hope heading into Arch Madness. Turns out, one of the most disappointing losses Valpo had this season could be the team’s biggest source of confidence for the postseason. Hear me out. On Feb. 4, Valpo led the conference-leading Drake Bulldogs for over 42 minutes of game time. While the Beacons would lose in double overtime, the team played some of its best basketball of the year against the best team in the Valley. If Ben Krikke, Kobe King and company get the offense running on all cylinders like they’re capable of, Valpo will secure a first round victory.
8. Northern Iowa
The scoring duo of Bowen Born and Tytan Anderson for Northern Iowa make the Panthers’ offense a scary prospect for opponents. However, the Panthers are on a five game losing streak nearing the close of regular season play. Considering one of those losses included a 12 point deficit to the last place Evansville Purple Aces, the Panthers are surely not on the right track headed into the postseason. Northern Iowa sits in fifth place in the Valley in both points per game and points allowed per game, but things clearly aren’t clicking right now out in Cedar Falls. The Panthers won’t make it past the first round.
7. Murray State
The Murray State Racers have been a bit of a wild card this season. They sit at an even 8-8 conference record, but have secured promising wins against Bradley, Belmont and Indiana State. However, when the Racers lose, they lose big. All three of their last losses have been by margins of 24 points or more. It’s fair to say that’s not exactly what you want as you near the end of the regular season. Still, as a likely seventh or eighth seed in the tournament, the Racers will get a more favorable matchup. With Rob Perry as an elite scorer and DJ Burns playing tough on the boards, the Racers have more than a few things working in their favor. Most significantly, however, Murray State has three players in the MVC’s top 15 for free throw percentage. In a physical league where games often come down to the wire, making late shots at the foul line is a difference maker. The Racers will play on day two of the tournament.
6. Missouri State
Missouri State’s tough defense is what has gotten them eight MVC wins on the season. The Bears have allowed the fewest points against (1,642) out of any team in conference play. With the second highest rebounding margin in the league, they don’t give opposing teams many opportunities for second-chance points. That being said, the Bears are near the bottom of the table in free throw percentage, three point percentage and field goal percentage. The Bears’ defensive capabilities will get them to day two of the tournament, but their offensive woes will have them exiting in the second round.
5. Indiana State
Indiana State shoots the ball well in all areas of the court. With the best points per game average as a team (78.89), the Sycamores are an offensive powerhouse. Sitting at 11-5 in conference, Indiana State is just one game back from first place in the Valley. The Sycamores are on a five game win streak and in the hunt for a better spot in the standings. Courvoisier McCauley is a top 10 scorer in this league. If he gets hot, the Sycamores can make a run to the semifinals of Arch Madness.
The Belmont Bruins have had the best inaugural MVC season out of any of the newcomers. Led by Ben Sheppard, who averages the second best points per game mark in the league at 19.37, the Bruins’ offense is scary. They also have two other top 20 scorers in Cade Tyson and Drew Friberg, and that trio owns the three best three point percentages in the conference. Having swept Bradley this year and posted an 11-5 MVC record, Belmont has proven they are a top team in the league. Belmont will make it to the semifinals of the tournament, but should they face Drake, I don’t see them making it any further.
3. Southern Illinois
The Salukis are another one of three teams who hold an 11-5 record in conference action. While Southern Illinois leads the league in steals and has Marcus Domask who can score efficiently, turnovers have held their team back. As of late, the Salukis have struggled to put up a lot of points, scoring just 59 points against Drake in an 82-59 loss. While they currently sit in third place, opposing teams might be playing Southern Illinois at the right time as we near the end of the season. I’ll bet on the Salukis making a second round exit in this year’s tournament.
Here come the Braves. Rienk Mast, Malevy Leons and Deen Duke have been the most productive three players for Bradley this season. Bradley’s defense is elite, and the team shoots the ball at an incredible clip from deep at 37.5%. It’s fair to say that the Braves are one of the best all-around teams in the conference, and their 12-4 MVC record shows just that. Bradley is currently on a six game win streak and playing excellent basketball. The Braves will likely find themselves playing for a league title if they keep it rolling.
There’s a reason the preseason-favorite Bulldogs sit in the top spot in the MVC with just two games left. That reason is Tucker DeVries. DeVries was picked as the preseason Player of the Year, and has proven that honor to be well-deserved with the season he has had thus far. DeVries leads the league in scoring and his team has the best turnover margin in the conference. The Bulldogs outscore their opponents by an average margin of nearly 11 points and have racked up 6 blowouts of 15 points or more in MVC play this year. It’s hard to believe the Bulldogs will be stopped come tournament time, which is why I’m picking them to win it all this season.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.
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