Thursday, March 4, 2010

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

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At this point in the season, the Missouri Valley Conference usually has several teams grouped at the top of the league, with at least two or three in bubble and at-large consideration. This season, not so much. Northern Iowa won the league by three games despite losing two of its final four conference contests. Wichita State finished in second, struggling down the stretch. Illinois State and Creighton finished third and fourth, and only two teams in the league finished below .500 overall.

Favorite: Despite its late-season struggles, Northern Iowa is the clear favorite in “Arch Madness.” The Panthers control tempo, play outstanding defense and don’t allow second chances for opponents. Offensively, they take care of the ball and knock down outside shots effectively. They do have balance, though. Forward Adam Koch and 7-0 center Jordan Eglseder form a duo up front that can battle with anyone in the country. On the perimeter, Kwadzo Ahelegbe is a solid all-around player and Ali Farokhmanesh can shoot.

Contenders: Wichita State played itself out of an at-large berth with its late-season play, losing four of its last eight overall, but the Shockers are still a threat for the automatic bid. They are efficient at both ends of the floor, and rebound well. Wichita State is led by its guard tandem of Clevin Hannah and Toure Murry, two players who can score and shoot from three. J.T. Durley provides inside balance. Illinois State had won six in a row before falling at Northern Iowa in the season finale. ISU rebounds the ball exceptionally well, and has a balanced offense. The Redbirds have one of the most exciting players in the conference in guard Osiris Eldridge, who can shoot the three and also finish with the best of them. Lloyd Phillips is a playmaker, and forward Dinma Odiakosa is a double-double threat.

Sleeper: Even though it went just 8-10 in MVC play, keep an eye on Missouri State. The Bears lost just two games all season by double-figures, with the last six defeats coming by a combined 20 points. They are very efficient offensively, taking care of the ball and making shots from inside and outside the arc. They also rebound the ball very well on the defensive end. Kyle Weems and Adam Leonard are the major weapons for MSU.

Prediction: “Arch Madness” is always one of the best conference tournaments in the country. At a neutral site in St. Louis, the Missouri Valley tourney is typically competitive and exciting. This season, Northern Iowa is the heavy favorite, although eight of its 15 league wins were by single-digits. The Panthers are not unbeatable. Wichita State is struggling, but Illinois State has the pieces to be a threat. However, in the end, Northern Iowa is too experienced and too balanced to lose in the title game. The Panthers will not sweat on Selection Sunday – they are getting the automatic bid.

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