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Missouri Valley leaders streak to the finish

Wichita State and Illinois State share the title

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Chicago at Wichita State
Wichita State has won or shared four straight MVC titles.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Missouri Valley Conference’s top two teams went on the road Saturday and secured shares of the MVC regular season championship. It was the fourth straight title for No. 25 Wichita State (27-4, 17-1), and the first for Illinois State (25-5, 17-1) in almost 20 years.

Wichita took care of business at Missouri State, as Landry Shamet and Shaquille Morris combined to score 43 points in the 86-67 victory. Gregg Marshall’s team has won 12 straight games heading into the MVC Tournament.

The Redbirds played a dominating second half, outscoring Northern Iowa 33-17, on their way to 63-42 win. ISU earned its first Valley title since head coach Dan Muller was a player in Normal, Illinois (1997-98). MiKyle McIntosh led the way with 15 points. Point guard Paris Lee scored 14, grabbed eight rebounds, and handed out four assists. This was the Redbirds’ sixth straight win.

What Does It Mean?

These were critical wins. Any deviation from the script that finds ISU and WSU in the finals of the conference tournament likely means only one of them will make the Dance. Numerous bracketologists are saying both teams are on that proverbial bubble. Despite Illinois State’s stronger RPI, the Redbirds have been surviving by the thinnest of margins in recent weeks. Any loss may doom their NCAA Tournament hopes.

Illinois State will be the top seed at Arch Madness is St. Louis. The MVC’s first tie-breaker is head-to-head match ups, and the two champions split their regular season games. RPI is the second method of breaking the tie and the Redbirds (34) rank slightly higher than the Shockers (41).

At the Valley tournament, the ramifications are minimal. Six MVC teams qualify for the quarterfinals and the bottom four squads play a Thursday night play-in game. The first- and second-place teams will be rested and waiting for a Friday contest with those weary Thursday night winners.

McIntosh’s return to form after going scoreless in Wednesday’s game allows Redbird fans to relax. The 6’7 junior is working his way back from late-season knee surgery.

Shamet’s performance (a career high 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and no turnovers) caps a seven-game stretch where he is averaging over 13 points per game, and has handed out 29 assists while committing just six turnovers. The redshirt freshman is squarely in the conversation for the Valley’s Player of the Year award.

Both teams are off until Friday’s quarterfinal round of the conference tournament in St. Louis. ISU will tip at noon CT against the winner of Thursday’s matchup of eighth- and ninth-place teams. Wichita State plays at 6 pm against the winner of the seventh and tenth place teams.