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The Missouri Valley had a historic season for the league last year, landing two teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and four in the NCAA Tournament. This year, they had a terrific non-conference campaign, with the #4 RPI in the country through non-league play. However, due to the parity of the conference, they will likely not get as many bids as a season ago. Southern Illinois won the league at 15-3, while Creighton finished two games behind them. Missouri State and Bradley also finished above .500. It could be a wide-open conference tournament.
Favorite: Although the top seed seemingly never wins the conference tournament, Southern Illinois has to come into the tourney as the favorite. The defending tournament champions, the Salukis have a top-five RPI and are in line for a top-three seed come Selection Sunday. They play some of the best defense in the country, and get teams out of their normal offensive sets. Randal Falker is one of the best big men in the conference, and Jamaal Tatum is a clutch scorer in the backcourt. Matt Shaw is a good inside-outside player up front. Given the defense they play, and the way they execute at the end of the games, this team can beat anyone in the country if they are hitting their shots.
Contenders: Creighton disappointed during the non-conference portion of the season, but the Blue Jays got off to an 11-3 start in MVC play before losing three of their final five games overall. Nate Funk is arguably the best guard in the conference, with his ability to get points on the offensive end. Anthony Tolliver is a legit big man down low, and Dane Watts provides a nice third option on offense. Josh Dotzler runs the show. Missouri State is trying to get a couple of wins during “Arch Madness” to avoid the disappointment they had during last year’s Selection Sunday. Blake Ahearn is one of the best shooters in the country, and is the best free-throw shooter in NCAA history. The Bears have a very good offense, with guard Tyler Chaney and sixth man Deven Mitchell also averaging in double-figures. 6-9 Drew Richards needs to contribute more down low.
Sleeper: Wichita State had one of the best pre-conference campaigns of any team in the country, but the Shockers went only 8-10 in MVC play and dropped to a six seed in the conference tournament with four straight losses to end the season. With that said, this team has the personnel to possibly make a run. Kyle Wilson is an inside-outside scorer that creates match-up problems; P.J. Couisnard is a versatile wing; and Ryan Martin does a variety of things to help the Shockers. In the backcourt, Sean Ogirri is a prolific long-range shooter that can get hot from deep. Also keep an eye on Evansville and Illinois State, two 6-12 teams.
Prediction: The Missouri Valley Conference tournament should be one of the best tourneys in the country. There are several teams that are capable of making a run to win the automatic bid. Even the below .500 teams have quality wins on the year. Despite that, I can’t bet against Southern Illinois. The Salukis are just too good. They play outstanding defense, are experienced in the postseason, and have answered every test put upon them this year. I like SIU to complete the championship sweep, and make a case for a 2 seed in the Big Dance.
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