It’s time for Arch Madness! What an awesome tournament that has been hosted in the city of St. Louis since 1991. The Missouri Valley Conference seems to still get what collegiate athletics is all about. You’re not going to see athletic departments stretch their budget to travel to conference foes like you see in most conferences these days. The geographical layout is terrific allowing this loyal fan base to do what they do best, get out and support their teams. You’ll see that later this week when thousands of fans descend upon the St. Louis area decked out in their favorite gear to try and help push their team to the conference championship, automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and at least a shot at the national title.
And it’s that “shot” at the national title that makes this tournament so interesting, especially when you consider that the top seed in the tournament has only won the darn thing 15 times in the last 40 tries, and that top see has only hoisted the MVC Tournament Trophy EIGHT times since the tournament made the move to St. Louis in 1991. Now that is some serious NCAA Tournament bubble busting. The nation will have their eye on Arch Madness again this year, specifically on Illinois State.
The MVC is never a league that is going to be referred to as “deep”. 37 of the last 40 MVC Tournament Champions have been a top-three seed (UNI won it as a #4 last year). This year is no exception with Illinois State and Wichita State heads and shoulders above the rest of the conference. Despite their top seed, the Redbirds are going to have to play their way to an NCAA Tournament invitation or become just the second Valley team in 18 years to win the regular season league title and number one seed to NOT earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament (Missouri State, 2011). The Shockers and their 19.5ppg scoring margin (ranks 2nd nationally) are a lock already but Illinois State is probably going to have to make it to the Arch Madness championship game to find their name called on selection Sunday, and a loss in that game may only be acceptable if it’s to Wichita State.
That’s not to say the Redbirds don’t deserve it. Four of the last five years the MVC has had at least two teams represented in the national tournament (posting a 13-9 record and .591 win percentage, good for 4th among all leagues since 2012) but other than WSU (40) and ISU (34) the next closest team in RPI is Southern Illinois (146) while Drake (305!) rounds out the bottom. With those kind of numbers around the league your conference wins are just not enough. You’ve got to prove it come tournament time. So keep your eyes on what happens with Illinois State this week. What the Redbirds do (or don’t) will alter the postseason basketball landscape more than any other team in the valley this year.
Other interesting questions and thoughts on The Valley…
- Will the opening round teams make any noise – the top two seeds are a combined 51-1 in their opening games since the tournament moved to St. Louis
- Shockers average 35.6 points per game off their bench, 2nd in the country
- Every eligible team with 16+ MVC conference wins has earned an NCAA tournament bid
- Can Loyola shoot themselves to an upset or two – their team FG% ranks 11th nationally (49.2)
- Barry Hinson (SIU) is coaching in his 14th MVC Tournament (five with SIU), matching Creighton’s Dana Altman for most all-time. Ben Jacobson (UNI) makes his 11th appearance while Greg Marshall (WSU) and Marty Simmons (UE) coach for the 10th
- Speaking of Marshall, how long does he remain in The Valley? Or the Shockers for that matter?
- UNI’s Jeremy Morgan is three blocks away from 100 as he tries to become the 4th player in MVC history with 100 blocks and 150 assists
- Four of the league’s top seven freshman scores played for Bradley this season
- How much longer is the MVC Tournament going to be played in St. Louis? Next year is the last guaranteed year on the current contract (The Valley has option to extend to 2019 & 2020)