For many people, Arch Madness tips off the festivities of March Madness.
Now, I know I just said the word “madness” twice, but that’s exactly what the Missouri Valley was this season, madness.
As they added three new programs in Belmont, Murray State, and UIC, the parity was at an all-time high.
At the beginning of February, there were eight teams within a game of first place. That’s fun! It also means that the tournament title is pretty much up for grabs.
Note: All games take place in Saint Louis and all times are Eastern.
First Round (Thursday, March 2), Bally/ESPN+
Game 1: No. 9 Illinois State vs. No. 8 Northern Iowa, 1 p.m.
Game 2: No. 12 Evansville vs. No. 5 Indiana State, 3:30 p.m.
Game 3: No. 10 Valparaiso vs. No. 7 Murray State, 7 p.m.
Game 4: No. 11 UIC vs. No. 6 Missouri State, 9:30 p.m.
Quarterfinals (Friday, March 3), Bally/ESPN+
Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 1 Bradley, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 4 Belmont, 3:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. No. 2 Drake, 7 p.m.
Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. No. 3 Southern Illinois, 9:30 p.m.
Semifinals (Saturday, March 4), CBS Sports Network
Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 6 p.m.
Finals (Sunday, March 5), CBS
Game 11: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner, 2 p.m.
Bradley (23-8, 16-4): Brian Wardle’s crew has charged onto an impressive 10-game win streak. In the process, they’ve become one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Allowing the 10th-longest average possession and the 17th-lowest percentage of made shots in the country, they’ve held their last eight opponents to under 70 points.
This is in large part due to its two-headed monster down low in Rienk Mast and Malevy Leons. Leons blocks the highest percentage of shots in the conference while Mast ranks in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.
Drake (24-7, 15-5): The Missouri Valley Conference has not seen a player like Tucker DeVries since Doug McDermott. Not often do you have the coach's son winning conference player of the year, averaging just under 20 points per game.
Drake has been playing really good basketball, winning 10 straight games before losing last time out to Bradley. Including the loss on Sunday, the Bulldogs have not lost to a team outside of the KenPom Top 160.
It’s because of the depth and experience of players such as Darnell Brodie, Roman Penn and DJ Wilkins that makes all of this success possible.
Southern Illinois (22-9, 14-6): Marcus Domask is a special talent, playing nearly every minute for the Salukis over the last two seasons. It’s for good reason, as he leads the team with 17 points per game, creating extra opportunities for not only himself but others around him, sitting at 3.8 assists per game. Outside of him, the Salukis have found troubles with consistency. Big games from Xavier Johnson and Lance Jones would be a difference maker to push SIU to its first NCAA Tournament since 2007.
The Long Shots
Belmont (21-10, 14-6): To the surprise of nobody, Belmont has found instant success in its first season in the MVC. They run one of the best 3-point shooting offenses in the country, mixing an awesome core of freshmen with seniors.
Indiana State (20-11, 13-7): Indiana State capped one of its best regular seasons since the Larry Bird days by winning seven of its last nine. Its veteran backcourt of Cooper Neese and Courvoisier McCauley look to make their first NCAA Tournament.
Murray State (16-14, 11-9): Steve Prohm’s crew has some impressive but has struggled to find consistency. They do a good job holding onto the ball on the offensive end but have the second-worst defense in the league.
Northern Iowa (13-17, 9-11): If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of watching Missouri Valley basketball, it’s that you can never bet against Ben Jacobson in March. The duo of Bowen Born and Tytan Anderson will only get better during their time in Cedar Falls and have the composure to win big games. On the negative side, UNI has lost eight of nine after an 8-3 start to Valley play.
Players to Watch
Rienk Mast, Bradley (14.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 52.2% FG%)
Malevy Leons, Bradley (11.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 49.2% FG%)
Tucker DeVries, Drake (18.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 44.9% FG%)
Roman Penn, Drake (12.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG%)
Marcus Domask, Southern Illinois (17.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.8 APG, 45.5% FG%)
Ben Sheppard, Belmont (18.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 47.5% FG%)
Courvoisier McCauley, Indiana State (16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 44.3% FG%)
Donovan Clay, Missouri State (11.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 46.9% FG%)
Rob Perry, Murray State (14.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 42.7% FG%)
Bowen Born, Northern Iowa (17.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 41.3% FG%)
Tytan Anderson, Northern Iowa (12.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 48.4% FG%)
Seneca Knight, Illinois State (12.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 47.0% FG%)
Ben Krikke, Valparaiso (19.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 55.3% FG%)
Kobe King, Valparaiso (16.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 42.8% FG%)
Jace Carter, UIC (16.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 45.8% FG%)
Kenny Strawbridge, Evansville (14.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 38.6% FG%)
We’ll see some madness, but ultimately have a rubber match between Bradley and Drake. Both teams blew out each other on their home courts, so we get to see how the ball rolls on a neutral court.
I believe the game will go down to the final couple of possessions, and Drake wins by two on a late Tucker DeVries shot, 58-56.