Wichita State and Illinois State ran through the Missouri Valley Conference like Sherman through Georgia, but now the two Valley powers must do it all again if they are going to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
For the 27th straight year, the MVC is conducting its postseason tournament in St. Louis, and all Valley watchers expect to see the Shockers and Redbirds in Sunday’s championship game.
Illinois State (25-5, 17-1) and No. 21 Wichita State (27-4, 17-1) dominated the regular season race, only losing to each other, but still find themselves on the NCAA bubble. The Shockers have lost just four conference games during their past four regular season titles, but have won only one conference tournament championship in that time.
Two-time tournament champion Northern Iowa (14-15, 9-9) is the 3 seed and lurks at the most serious threat to upset one of the co-champions.
The 10-team Missouri Valley Tournament includes two play-in games on Thursday night. The bottom four teams (seeds 7 through 10) have to earn the right to play in the Friday quarterfinals.
How to Watch
(all times Central)
First Round, March 2:
8 Evansville vs. 9 Indiana State, 6 p.m., MVC TV Network
7 Bradley vs. 10 Drake, 8:30 p.m., MVC TV Network
Quarterfinals, March 3:
1 Illinois State vs. 8/9 Winner, Noon, MVC TV Network
4 Southern Illinois vs. 5 Loyola, 2:30 p.m., MVC TV Network
2 Wichita State vs. 7/10 Winner, 6 p.m., MVC TV Network
3 Northern Iowa vs. 6 Missouri State, 8:30 p.m., MVC TV Network
Semifinals, March 4:
Friday afternoon winners, 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Friday evening winners, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Championship, March 5:
Championship game, 1 p.m., CBS
3 Things to Watch
Will MiKyle McIntosh’s knee hold up?
Illinois State forward MiKyle McIntosh is a part of the Big 3 for Dan Muller’s co-championship team. The 6’7 junior was the team’s third-leading scorer (12.8 points per game) and was a second-team all conference player. He injured his right knee in late January and missed two weeks after surgery. If his knee fails under the pressure of three games in three days, the Redbirds could be in trouble.
Can anyone upset the Big Two?
The likely answer is no. The more nuanced answer is more intriguing. Northern Iowa is the two-time defending champion of Arch Madness and head coach Ben Jacobson has earned the title “Jake the Giant Killer.” His teams routinely knock off nationally ranked teams and last year they took out Wichita State in a thrilling overtime game.
Which player will shine brightest?
I believe this is Landry Shamet’s time. He became the first freshman to be named first-team all-conference since Doug McDermott for Creighton turned the trick in 2011. Since mid-January, when he moved from shooting guard to the point, he has been spectacular. He owns the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (3.25) among all freshmen and is a lights-out shooter.
Wichita State will win easily. The Shockers have improved all season long and are playing their best basketball. Coach Gregg Marshall’s deep lineup wears people down and they are efficient and play angry. Mark it down! They will cruise to a championship here, then do some serious damage in the NCAA Tournament.