Thursday, March 02, 2006

Arch Madness: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview

This time last year, I put together what I thought were pretty good predictions about the 2005 Valley tournament. I only missed two picks – a meaningless play-in game and the semifinal contest Creighton didn’t take part in.

That was then, however, and the landscape of the Valley is completely different this year. As many as six teams have a realistic shot to win the postseason title, hoist the trophy, and punch their dance card for the NCAA tournament.

This year, a couple semesters removed from my college days, I plan to go to as many games as possible. In the past, the routine revolved solely around Creighton’s game(s), and coupled with a lack of monetary funds I didn’t make it to many of the other Savvis Center tip-offs.

That will change, this year. What won’t change, however, is Creighton’s reign as the Tournament champion. The picks:

Game 1: Indiana State (12-15 regular season record) vs. Drake (12-18)

In a game pitting two of the Valley’s tough-luck teams, momentum (and a guy named Moss) will most likely make all the difference. Dr. Tom Davis’ Bulldogs like to press and score off of turnovers, but they face the formidable task of stopping a now-healthy David Moss and a group of Sycamores that is closer to resembling the team that started the season on fire than the squad that floundered with Moss out injured.

I like Indiana State in this game, but either team could give #1 seed Wichita State a run for its money in the quarterfinal game.

Game 2: Illinois State (9-18) vs. Evansville (9-18)

Porter Moser’s Redbirds stole a game from Creighton on New Year’s Eve, but since then have played exactly how their 211 RPI number suggests. As for the Purple Aces, Matt Webster and Bradley Strickland have been forces down on the blocks during Evansville’s current two-game win streak. ISU’s Greg Dilligard will have a tough time stopping Evansville’s post play, with the Purple Aces advancing to take on Southern Illinois in a rematch of Evansville’s 64-59 home win on Senior Night.

Game 3: Wichita State (23-7) vs. Indiana State

Why not the Sycs? While this is the time of year when Cinderella gets her dusty shoes out and shines them up for the ball, one would think that Wichita State will be ready to defend their #1 seed at least one game. And as close as Indiana State played the Shox back in December, their most recent meeting was unimpressive to say the least. Plus, whatever team wins Thursday night will have the unenviable task of turning right around and playing less than 18 hours after their first round game. Advantage, regular season champs – Wichita advances.

Game 4: Bradley (18-9) vs. Creighton (19-9)

I’m sure this will be a toss-up to many folks. Injuries plague the Jays, inconsistency (until recently, unfortunately for CU fans) afflicts the Braves. Both teams have dynamic scoring guards and go-to post players.

I could write for days about this match-up. Actually, I already did. Creighton lost at Bradley and repaid the favor in Omaha.

One team has Jim Les as coach. The other team has Dana Altman, the Dean of the Gateway City.

My pick, obviously, is Creighton.

Game 5: Evansville vs. Southern Illinois (19-10)

If any game just screams upset right now, it is this one. Southern can barely score right now, and Randal Falker has no easy test in front of him in Webster and Strickland if the Purple Aces survive Thursday night.

However, defense wins championships (except not for SIU in St. Louis, at least in the recent past). And if that is the case, the Saluki defense should be good for at least one win in Arch Madness this year, right?

Right. The pick is Southern Illinois.

Game 6: Northern Iowa (22-8) vs. Missouri State (20-7)

Talk about a nightcap to the first full day of action at Arch Madness. Northern Iowa is this year’s Valley media darling, but some of the luster has faded from a resume that was relatively shiny a month ago. Missouri State is playing very good defense, has won a handful of important games down the stretch, and could very well have pushed its way into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team regardless of what happens this weekend.

Forwards Grant Stout and Eric Coleman are too much for the Bears, though. And Ben Jacobson always brings his best to St. Louis. I think Northern Iowa pulls out a close win.

Game 7: Wichita State vs. Creighton

Game 8: Southern Illinois vs. Northern Iowa

Can you really go wrong with these semifinal games? These make for one awesome Saturday afternoon of basketball.

Honestly, because I want to see if Creighton can finally break through against Southern this year, I would pick the Jays and Salukis to win and advance to the championship game. However, I think Northern Iowa would win a quick rematch against SIU.

Game 9: Creighton vs. Northern Iowa

Let’s make it three wins against the Panthers for good measure, shall we?


Ah, if only it were that easy.

Everyone be safe in St. Louis, and if you see a guy with a broken left arm (Panon) buy him a beer, please. An Eve-of-Arch Madness broken radius is never good.

Go Jays!
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