Thursday, March 5, 2009

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament

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The Missouri Valley Conference did not have its typical season, where one team is around the top-25 all season long, and several others are in the mix for at-large bids. Despite that, it had an excellent race for the regular-season title, culminating in a split championship between Northern Iowa and Creighton. UNI went 3-3 in its last six league games, while Creighton has won 10 straight overall. Illinois State was the early leader, but could muster just a third-place finish. Bradley was the only other team to finish above .500.

Favorites: Despite Northern Iowa struggling to the finish line and Creighton playing its best basketball of the year, both teams should be considered the favorites heading into the conference tournament. Northern Iowa plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but the Panthers are suited for it and force teams to adjust. Adam Koch is the leading scorer up front, while 7-1 Jordan Eglseder is a match-up problem for nearly everyone in the conference. Kwadzo Ahelegbe can score effectively and also contribute in other areas, and Ali Farokhmanesh can shoot. Johnny Moran might be the best all-around player in the backcourt. On the other hand, Creighton is surging at the right time, having not lost since January 24. The Bluejays are very solid at both ends of the floor, shooting the ball well offensively and forcing turnovers at the other end. They have 11 guys averaging double-figure minutes, meaning there are plenty of options. Guard Booker Woodfox is their leading scorer; he can really shoot it from deep. P’Allen Stinnett is a very good all-around player, while Josh Dotzler is a solid point guard. Cavel Witter heats up in a hurry off the bench. Kenny Lawson Jr. and Justin Carter anchor the frontcourt.

Contenders: Illinois State started the season 14-0, but the Redbirds are just 8-8 since then, including three straight losses to end the season. Despite the struggles, they still have the firepower and talent to make a run. Guard Osiris Eldridge is one of the best players in the conference, and former Oregon transfer Champ Oguchi can do everything on the court. Point guard Lloyd Phillips returned late in the year, and Emmanuel Holloway is another good perimeter player. Up front, Dinma Odiakosa is the leader. Bradley ended Illinois State’s undefeated season on Jan. 6, then proceeded to lose seven of its next 10 games. The Braves have bounced back to win four of their last five to end the season, though. Forward Theron Wilson is one of the best frontcourt performers in the MVC. In the backcourt, Sam Maniscalco can score and distribute, while Dodie Dunson is a good perimeter shooter.

Sleeper: Last season, Drake won the conference title and received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This season, the Bulldogs have lost 10 of their last 14 games and are only a No. 8 seed in the conference tourney. However, there are some holdovers from last year’s club that could make a run. Josh Young is still one of the best guards in the league, and forward Jonathan Cox is a very good scorer and rebounder. Shooter Josh Parker also averages in double-figures.

Prediction: The Missouri Valley tournament, or “Arch Madness,” is always one of the most exciting conference tournaments to watch. This year should be no different, as there is no clear-cut favorite and plenty of capable teams. Northern Iowa and Creighton are definitely the leaders, but don’t count out Illinois State – the Redbirds might have the more firepower of anyone. However, they struggled down the stretch and don’t have the defense. Keep an eye on Evansville, too. Despite everything, it will come down to the co-champions: Northern Iowa and Creighton. In the title game, the Bluejays will be able to speed up the tempo, and Stinnett and Woodfox will guide this team to a victory and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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