What, Who, When
The Missouri Valley Conference tournament, "Arch Madness," runs from March 1-4 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The early rounds typically run on Fox Sports Midwest, with the finals taking place at 1:05 p.m. ET, Sunday on CBS.
The MVC utilizes the standard 10-team bracket, with the top six teams earning a bye into the quarterfinals while the seventh through tenth teams face off in a preliminary round.
Thursday: No. 8 Indiana State vs. No. 9 Southern Illinois, No. 7 Drake vs. No. 10 Bradley.
Friday: No. 1 Wichita State vs. Indiana State/Southern Illinois, No. 4 Illinois State vs. No. 5 Northern Iowa, No. 2 Creighton vs. Drake/Bradley, No. 3 Evansville vs. No. 6 Missouri State.
Who The Numbers Like
Wichita State. The numbers love, love, the Shockers. Ken Pomeroy's ratings place them at eighth in the country ($), ahead of teams like Missouri (ninth) and Duke (14th). Gregg Marshall's squad ranks seventh in offensive efficiency (thanks to dead-eye shooting, from both the field and the free throw line) and 20th in defensive efficiency (powered by some of the best defensive rebounding in the country). Only one other team (No. 39 Creighton) ranks in Pomeroy's Top 40, and only two others (No. 80 Northern Iowa, No. 93 Missouri State) find a double-digit ranking.
Who The Eyeballs Like
Wichita State. Eyes and numbers sometimes agree. While Creighton is the best-shooting team in the country, powered in part by sophomore big man (and coach's son) Doug McDermott, the Bluejays suffer on the defensive side of the ball, at least in comparison to the Shockers. Wichita State responded to a Dec. 31 home loss to Creighton by ripping off 16 wins in 17 games, and while they have escaped with some close wins here and there (seven of 16 conference wins were by 10 points or less), they have eluded the type of slump Creighton has currently found. CU lost three in a row, then looked only average in finishing the season with one-point wins over Evansville and Indiana State.
Evansville. After suffering a 24-point drubbing at Drake on Feb. 12, the Aces won three of four to end the regular season. They took out Northern Iowa at home on Feb. 15, and their only loss was by one point at Creighton. Defensively, Evansville is a bit of a disaster -- they force turnovers, but they allow open shots en masse -- but dark horses are never without flaws. The Aces have a solid offensive attack, led by high-volume scorer Colt Ryan (20.5 points per game); the 6-foot-5 junior is both strong from three-point range (43 percent) and proficient at getting to the line (6.8 free throw attempts per game).
Best Possible Title Game
Wichita State vs. Creighton. Any time two teams are that much better than everybody else in the league, that's probably the matchup you want to see. Upsets are fun, but they don't typically result in the most high-quality title matchups.
Who Might/Will Get In Anyway
Wichita State. Not only are the Shockers safely in, but if things break right for them, they could earn as high as a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. It is unlikely -- one has to figure they are destined to become a 4-seed or 5-seed -- but they have had a very, very good season. Only a triple-overtime, road loss to Drake mars what is otherwise a fantastic mid-major resume.
Creighton. Until recently, the Bluejays were in a dogfight with Wichita State for Best In The League status. But they followed up a perfect January with an iffy February. They lost at Northern Iowa and Evansville, then lost by 21 at home to WSU. They nipped Long Beach State on BracketBuster Saturday, then limped home with near-misses against Evansville and Indiana State. Their chance at a great seed has probably passed (Chris Dobbertean has them a 7-seed right now), but they would be safely in the Field of 68 even with a shocking quarterfinal loss.
Nobody else is even close to an at-large bid, unless the NCAA went ahead and decided to expand the field to 96 when nobody was looking.
Players To Watch
Garrett Stutz, Wichita State. There are quite a few quality bigs among the mid-major ranks this year, and Stutz is no exception. The seven-footer averaged 14 and eight; he made 59 percent of his two-pointers and 82 percent of his free throws, and he is 15th in the country in defensive rebound rate. You better make the first shot of your possession against the Shockers because Stutz is probably going to make sure you don't get a second.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. There might not be a better shooter from the field in the country than this 6-foot-7 sophomore. He made 64 percent of his 2-pointers and 48 percent of his 3-pointers and he is a dominant force on a Creighton offense that ranks first in the country in Effective Field Goal percentage. He did not play well against Wichita State in either matchup this year, however, averaging just 12.5 points on 9-for-23 shooting (6-for-18 on two-pointers). For the Bluejays to secure the auto-bid, he will need to find his range pretty quickly.
Anthony James, Northern Iowa. The six-foot junior dominates the UNI offense, for better or worse. He takes one-third of the shots when he is on the floor, and he was the only Panther to average double-digits. He makes 40 percent of his 3-pointers, and when he's on, UNI is very dangerous. Needless to say, he'll need to be on.
Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State. The 6-foot-9 junior from Manhattan, Kan. is a dominant force for the Redbirds' offense. His game is quite similar to that of Stutz above; he shoots 53 percent on two-pointers and ranks fourth in the country in defensive rebound rate. Accordingly, he almost averaged a double-double.
Colt Ryan, Evansville. If my incredibly unlikely darkhorse pick ends up correct, Ryan will almost certainly end up the tournament's most valuable player.