The standings, matchups and records mentioned in this article are based on the standings as of March 3, 2021. The Torch was printed prior to last weekend's games.
For the first time since 2019, Hoops in the Heartland will commence in the Quad Cities on March 11-14. With last season’s tournament cancelled, all of the programs in the Missouri Valley Conference are looking forward to getting back to competing against each other for the right to play in the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio this season.
MVC First Round: #8 Southern Illinois (6-12) vs #9 Indiana State (2-12)
While Southern Illinois has lost their last four games, they still clearly out-talent the Sycamores. Southern Illinois takes down Indiana State 77-51.
MVC First Round: #7 Loyola (9-9) vs #10 Evansville (2-16)
Loyola dropped the ball at the end of the season to fall to this spot, losing four of their last five games, but the Ramblers are much better coached than the Purple Aces, making for an easy win. Loyola coasts by Evansville, 66-39.
MVC Quarterfinals: #1 Missouri State (16-0) vs #8 Southern Illinois
Missouri State is the best team in this conference. They have not lost a game since December 19, and they swept their travel partner with ease this season. The Bears defeat Southern Illinois, 81-58.
MVC Quarterfinals: #4 Northern Iowa (10-6) vs #5 Bradley (10-6)
Finally, an entertaining game after three blowouts to start the tournament. These two teams split the season series in Peoria this season. Additionally, the game is highlighted by the battle between Lasha Petree and Karli Rucker. The Braves and Panthers go back and forth the entire game, but the contest is decided by the better talent, as Gabi Haack and Petree gut out a close game. Bradley defeats Northern Iowa 75-74.
MVC Quarterfinals: #2 Drake (12-6) vs #7 Loyola
Drake is not used to being the second seed in this tournament, as they are the usual powerhouse within The Valley. While the second game in Chicago against Loyola was close, the Ramblers will not have the gas to beat Drake for their second game in two days. Drake smokes out Loyola in the quarterfinals, 74-59.
MVC Quarterfinals: #3 Illinois State (11-5) vs #6 Valparaiso (8-8)
This is the matchup we have all waited for on Friday. These two teams split the series in Normal in January, but Illinois State came back to win the first game in overtime before Valpo dominated the second game. Both teams are trending in the right direction, with the Brown and Gold winning five of their last six to get in this spot. Shay Frederick continues her hot play, and Caitlin Morrison lights it up from the outside, as Valpo pulls off the upset in the quarterfinal, 73-70.
MVC Semifinals: #1 Missouri State vs #5 Bradley
Bryce Calip and Missouri State played two close games in Springfield this year against Bradley, as the first game was decided by only six points. This will not hold true in this matchup, though. The Bears depth proves to be too much for the Bradley bench, as Calip powers her team past Bradley in the second half to advance to the final. Missouri State downs Bradley, 80-65.
MVC Semifinals:#2 Drake vs #6 Valparaiso
These two teams split the season series in Des Moines the week earlier, and Valpo had not won against Drake before that weekend. With Valpo playing their best basketball of the season in March, they are clicking together and have enough depth to play with Drake, as their bench steps up to keep the game close. The end of the game sees Grace White emerge as the hero, as her solid free throw shooting in the final minute propels Valpo to another upset victory, as they edge the Bulldogs in the semifinal, 71-69.
MVC Championship: #1 Missouri State vs #6 Valparaiso
Here it is. The first championship game appearance for Valpo since they joined the conference, and a rematch against a team from which a game was stolen from back in January. While the college basketball world is pulling for Valpo to pull off the upset, along with the Brown and Gold drawing upon their emotions from earlier this season, the task is just too tall. Missouri State controls the game from start to finish, relying on their senior leadership to win the Valley Championship, 81-68. While Valpo comes up a game short of the NCAA Tournament, their play in the Valley Tournament garners their first postseason bid since 2004.
The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of the Torch.