The Missouri Valley is likely heading for its second consecutive year as a multi-bid league, regardless of the conference tournament's outcome. With Creighton and Wichita State boasting strong at-large resumes, bubble teams around the country will be rooting for the Bluejays or Shockers to take home the league's automatic bid.
Upsets could happen, as there were plenty of close games in the MVC regular season. There are several teams with the ability to win the tournament, and there should be lots of exciting, closely-contested games.
Who, What, When
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament takes place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis., March 7-10
All 10 teams from the MVC get the opportunity to play in Arch Madness and win the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The top six teams automatically advance to the quarterfinals, while the bottom four teams have to play in the first round on Friday.
Friday: No. 1 Creighton Bluejays vs. Game 1 winner (Game 3); No. 4 Evansville Aces vs. No. 5 Indiana St. Sycamores (Game 4); No. 2 Wichita St. Shockers vs. Game 2 winner (Game 5); No. 3 Northern Iowa Panthers vs. No. 6 Illinois St. Redbirds (Game 6)
Saturday: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner; Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner
Who The Numbers Like
Creighton: The Bluejays used one of the best offenses in the nation to win 13 league games, as they averaged 1.17 points per possession against MVC teams. Creighton shot remarkably well in-conference, posting a 60.4 effective field goal percentage, including 43 percent from beyond the arc. In addition to holding the top seed, the Bluejays have the highest kenpom efficiency rating in the conference at No. 21.
Wichita State: The Shockers used a more balanced attack for success, as they finished second in the conference in offensive and defensive efficiency. Wichita State is best equipped to stop the Bluejays, as they led the conference in two-point defense. A neutral-court matchup between the two in the title game would likely be a toss-up.
Who The Eyeballs Like
Creighton: The Bluejays won the last meeting between the two, 91-79, on March 2 to win the regular season title. Wichita State dropped two straight games coming into the tournament, sapping any momentum they had been building up. Plus, Creighton has Doug McDermott, and having the best player on the court at all times can go a long way.
Northern Iowa, Evansville, Illinois State and Indiana State all are ranked in the kenpom top 100. That means they certainly stand a chance at winning in St. Louis. The four schools play each other in the quarterfinals, so Wichita State and Creighton will have to go through someone in this group to reach the final.
Best Possible Title Game
Creighton vs. Wichita State: This is the game that everyone wants to see. The two split the regular season series with each team winning at home and despite a lot of parity, are the class of the conference. It is the championship everyone has been waiting over a year for, as last season Wichita State got knocked off in the semis when both the Shockers and Bluejays were ranked in the top 25.
Who Might/Will Get in Anyway
Both Creighton and Wichita State would likely make it into the big dance even without the automatic bid. Both teams have a solid numbers in all the measurable rankings, and big out of conference wins (Creighton beat Wisconsin and Wichita State beat VCU earlier in the year). SB Nation's Chris Dobbertean has Creighton as a nine-seed and the Shockers as a 10-seed in his latest bracket projections. Still, both would much rather win the MVC and put an end to any doubt.
Players to watch
Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is not only the best in the Missouri Valley Conference, but he is one of the top players in the country. The 6'8 forward takes nearly 35 percent of Creighton's shots while he is on the floor, but has still managed a 124.4 offensive rating. His 63.2 effective field goal percentage is 17th nationally. He hits 59 percent of his twos, 48 percent of his threes, and 87 percent of his free throws. McDermott is a pure scorer, and a solid defensive rebounder to boot.
Colt Ryan, Evansville: The 6'5 wing is involved with nearly everything in the Aces' offense. He holds an unusual combination of a 33.2 shot percentage and a 30.2 assist rate. He does that while limiting turnovers and knocking down shots. Ryan is making 40 percent from beyond the arc and 89 percent of his free throws. If Evansville makes a run, Ryan will be the catalyst.
Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State: Illinois State had a disappointing run in league play, but Carmichael was a bright spot on the inside. He's an excellent rebounder on both ends of the floor and tough to deal with at 6'9, 240. He's good at drawing contact, attracting 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes and shooting 52 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. Carmichael is also a defensive force, as he was The Valley's second-best shot-blocker.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: The Shockers' most voluminous shooter will surely play a factor in deciding the tournament's outcome. Early hits on 55 percent from two, and is a threat to move outside and take a three-pointer. He's not a great defensive rebounder, but does protect the rim.
Jake Odum, Indiana State: Odum is one of the best at getting into the lane in the country. He finished fifth-nationally in free throw rate, taking 89 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. Odum also distributes, assisting on 33 percent of his teammates' baskets. The 6'4 guard is disruptive and could easily get some of the conference's best big men in foul trouble.