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Missouri Valley Tournament bracket: Arch Madness is Loyola’s to lose

The Ramblers are favored, but who else has a shot in St. Louis?

NCAA Basketball: Loyola-Chicago at Wichita State
Potential MVC MVP Clayton Custer leads Loyola into the conference tournament.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

This is Loyola Chicago’s year and this week’s Missouri Valley Tournament should be their coronation as the next ‘it’ team in the MVC. The Ramblers (25-5) have won seven straight games and 14 of their last 15 contests.

Porter Moser’s team is the No. 1 seed in the Valley’s conference tournament and the big question is whether there is any team that can truly challenge the deep and talented Ramblers.

Their three conference losses taught us they aren’t invincible, however two of those league losses came while player of the year candidate Clayton Custer was out of the lineup. Loyola is 23-2 with the Iowa State transfer in the lineup and went 2-3 while he was out with an injury.

Who could potentially challenge the Ramblers and what will the MVC Tournament bracket reveal?

Since Southern Illinois and Illinois State are the second and third seeds respectively, you would assume one of them has the best chance to meet Loyola in the finals. Illinois State is getting healthy at the right time. In recent games, it has seen the return of two injured starters in forward Phil Fayne and guard Keyshawn Evans. ISU is the most talented team other than the Ramblers, and its own player of the year candidate and shoe-in for newcomer of the year, Milik Yarbrough, can be an X-factor.

Beyond Loyola’s dominance, the league has proven to be incredibly balanced. No team lost 20 games this season and every team won at least 13 times. Last-place and first-year member Valparaiso improved all conference season and won its first-ever Valley road game in its final contest of the season, knocking Drake out of third place.

If Northern Iowa (15-15, 7-11) didn’t have to play on Thursday night, it would be the dark horse pick. The Panthers know how to win this tournament and they are playing their best basketball at the right time. Ben Jacobson’s team carries a modest two-game winning streak (they’ve won three of four) to St. Louis, but the dreaded play-in round awaits. Exactly one team in the history of the 10-team format has advanced as far as the semifinal round of Arch Madness. The odds are stacked against the Panthers.

Bradley (19-12, 9-9) is the only Valley team to defeat a full-strength Loyola team and the Braves show glimpses of being a dangerous squad. However, as the fifth seed, they would potentially face Loyola in the semifinals. Brian Wardle’s team struggled to a 2-7 road mark in conference games. The neutral site tournament could be just what the doctor ordered for the Braves.


How to watch:

(all times Central)

March 1:

6 p.m.: No. 8 Evansville vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa, MVC TV Network
8:30 p.m.: No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 10 Valparaiso, MVC TV Network

March 2:

Noon: No. 1 Loyola vs. Evansville/Northern Iowa winner, MVC TV Network
2:30 p.m.: No. 4 Drake vs. No. 5 Bradley, MVC TV Network
6 p.m.: No. 2 Southern Illinois vs. Missouri State/Valparaiso, MVC TV Network
8:30: No. 3 Illinois State vs. No. 6 Indiana State, MVC TV Network

March 3:

2:30 p.m.: Semifinal No. 1, CBS Sports Network
5 p.m.; Semifinal No. 2, CBS Sports Network

March 4:

1 p.m.: Championship Game, CBS