Thursday, March 6, 2008

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

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The Missouri Valley was not as impressive and deep as it has been in the past couple of seasons, but it was still one of the best conferences in the country. Drake won the league by two games over Illinois State, as it got off to a 13-0 start in league play before struggling down the stretch. The preseason favorite, Southern Illinois, went just 5-6 before conference play and needed a hot finish just to place third. Illinois State was the surprise of the league, finishing in second and putting itself in position for an at-large bid. Expect even more unpredictability in “Arch Madness.”

Favorite: Drake was making a move towards a potential top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs dropped three of its last six games. They still won the league, but their struggles down the stretch don’t bode well for the conference tournament. Still, they were one of the best stories of the season and Keno Davis might be the Coach of the Year. Josh Young is one of the best players in the conference; he is flanked by scorer Leonard Houston and Adam Emmenecker, an excellent distributor. Jonathan Cox is efficient down low and Klayton Korver is solid. Drake is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, and they force turnovers defensively.

Contenders: Illinois State jumped out to a 6-0 start in league play before dropping four of its next six to fall out of the league race. However, the Redbirds bounced back down the stretch, winning six of its last seven, including victories over Wright State, Southern Illinois and Creighton. Osiris Eldridge is a big-time scorer on the perimeter, while Anthony Slack is extremely efficient down low. ISU is deep and balanced. Southern Illinois had a chance to get the No. 2 seed, but the Salukis fell to ISU in the finale at home. Despite that, they have won five of their last six, and 10 of their last 14. They have arguably the best frontcourt combo in the conference in Randal Falker and Matt Shaw. Bryan Mullins can distribute and shoot the ball from the point. SIU plays outstanding defense and has the experience to make a run in St. Louis.

Sleepers: Bradley came into the season as one of the main contenders for the title; however, an injury and late suspension to star guard Daniel Ruffin dropped them to just 9-9 in the conference. With Ruffin cleared to play, the Braves are going to be a tough out. They have already beaten Drake, Creighton and Illinois State, and can play with anyone in the conference. Along with Ruffin, Jeremy Crouch is an outstanding shooter, while Theron Wilson is solid down low. Missouri State and the forward duo of Dale Lamberth and Deven Mitchell are also going to be tough to deal with if it can get production from its guards.

Prediction: The Missouri Valley always has one of the most exciting conference tournaments in the country. There are plenty of teams that have the ability to win the league, and there is more at stake than just a conference tournament title. Drake is looking for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Illinois State, Southern Illinois and even Creighton are all fighting for their bubble lives. Bradley will beat Creighton in the quarterfinals, while Missouri State will give ISU everything it can handle before falling. Drake will avenge its loss to Bradley in the semifinals, and SIU will use its experience and defense to take down Illinois State. In the finals, Drake will add another milestone to its dream season with a conference tournament title. ISU and SIU will garner at-large bids.

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