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MVC Tournament Preview: Exciting Field for 25th Arch Madness

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For the MVC's silver anniversary in St. Louis, Arch Madness features two nationally ranked teams for only the second time in its history.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Before 2012, the Missouri Valley had never entered Arch Madness with two teams ranked in the Top 25 of either the Coach's or AP poll. Wichita State stood at No. 15 while Creighton was No. 25, with Creighton winning that tournament 83-79 in overtime against Illinois State who had just beat WSU 65-64 the day before. Both ranked teams appeared in the NCAA Tournament, with Creighton winning its first game before losing to North Carolina.

This season Wichita State again enters as the top seed in the MVC Tournament (the last time the Shockers weren't the first or second seed was 2009) and is ranked No. 8 in the nation. The challenger is Northern Iowa, which is ranked No. 11 and is the only Missouri Valley team to have beat the Shockers, splitting their two games.

Every Missouri Valley team is entered into the Arch Madness Tournament, with the four bottom teams playing against each other for the right to be steamrolled by WSU or UNI. The rest of the six MVC teams have a bye for the Thursday games, beginning on Friday. All times listed are Central Time Zone.

Thursday Games

Missouri State (11-19, 5-13) v Southern Illinois (11-20, 4-14)

6:05 PM - MVC TV

Missouri State was supposed to be a high octane offense with grinding defense, but instead team offensive leader Marcus Marshall left the team after a dispute with Head Coach Paul Lusk and supposed sharpshooter Austin Ruder only hit 32.3% of his three point attempts and didn't even crack a 10 point per game average this season. Southern Illinois looked like it was on the upswing at the end of last season, but wasn't able to keep the momentum going to make this a successful season. Coach Barry Hinson will now have to face his former employer in a game neither team really wants to be in. Fun fact: only one team that has ever played in the opening round of the MVC Tournament has ever went on to beat the next team they played. So, essentially, the winner gets the opportunity to lose to Wichita State.

Drake (9-21, 6-12) v Bradley (8-23, 3-15)

8:30 pm - MVC TV

Drake, believe it or not, kind of overachieved in acquiring the seventh overall seed in the MVC Tournament. Especially after the only teams it beat in its non-conference schedule were IUPUI, Jackson State, and DIII Simpson. Bradley, on the other hand, hasn't won a game since a February 7 upset against Evansville. Drake won both regular season games against Bradley this season, with a 12 and 6 points as their margins of victory. Winner plays Northern Iowa.

Friday Games

Wichita State (27-3, 17-1) v Missouri State/Southern Illinois

12:00 pm - MVC TV

Wichita State may not have went undefeated in the regular season this time around, but Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton still are dynamic players who make the Shockers a deserved favorite in Arch Madness. Then again, even the favorites are allowed to have some "bulletin board material" - Cotton was snubbed for Missouri Valley First Team Honors in spite of being named the conference's defensive MVP. DJ Balentine was picked instead. If Evansville advances against Illinois State, Cotton will have the opportunity to show who the better player is on Saturday.

Illinois State (19-11, 11-7) v Evansville (19-11, 9-9)

2:30 pm - MVC TV

Illinois state has all the talent it needs to make a run in the conference tournament and be a threat to Wichita State. The problem is that the Redbirds can't seem to consistently put that talent together for an extended period of time. Evansville, on the other hand, is led by two great talents - DJ Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius - but lacks the depth needed to go toe-to-toe with UNI and WSU. The Purple Aces and Redbirds played each other in their last regular season match up, in which Illinois State won 69-67 in overtime on a jump shot by Daishon Knight.

Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2) v Drake/Bradley

6:00 pm - MVC TV

Seth Tuttle deserves every ounce of respect granted by the Larry Bird Player of the Year Award after an excellent senior campaign. It's not just that he's a hard nosed defender, aggressive scorer, or the leader of the Panthers. It's that he does all of that while also playing entirely unselfishly and is always willing to put his team in the best place to score, not just in the best place to pad his own stats. Although Tuttle is the only consistent double digit scorer on the team, the backcourt tandem of Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell is strong enough to propel the team forward when needed. UNI's potential Saturday foe Evansville is one of their only loses back on the first of January (the others are WSU and VCU).

Indiana State (15-15, 11-7) v Loyola University (18-12, 8-10)

8:30 pm - MVC TV

Indiana State's season for the most part hasn't been that glorious. However, when they swept the Redbirds and started the conference schedule on a 5-0 run, it put them in position to achieve the third seed in spite of going 6-7 for the rest of the season. Loyola has a surprisingly successful season after being predicted to come in last, winning all but two games of their easy non-conference schedule and then being much more competitive than expected. An odd note about their season is that the Ramblers were 2-7 in January, but 16-5 every other month combined. Unfortunately for Loyola, they lost both regular season games to the Sycamores, and neither were particularly close.

Saturday Games

Semifinal 1 - 1:30 pm - MVC TV

This will be Wichita State/Missouri State/Southern Illinois v lllinois State/Evansville

Seminfinal 2 - 4:00 pm - MVC TV

This will be Northern Iowa/Drake/Bradley v Indiana State/Loyola

Sunday Game

MVC Championship Game - 1:00 pm - CBS Sports