NCAA Brackets Preview: Missouri Valley Conference

St. Louis, MO
Mar. 7-10

Once again, the MVC will provide some scary teams for the NCAA Tournament. Creighton has most of the same players from last year’s eighth-seeded squad. Wichita State may not be what they were last year (5-seed), but they still won some big games early in the season, which shows their potential. Because the conference is so deep, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if teams like Northern Iowa or Indiana State caught fire and won the Conference Championship.

MVC teams have some recent history of March Madness success. Of course, the Bluejays won just last year, but Northern Iowa made it to the Sweet 16 in 2010, beating a top seeded Kansas Jayhawks team. Also, it wasn’t long ago that Wichita State and Bradley made it to the Sweet 16. This tournament will be one of the more competitive ones with teams from the smaller conferences.

Record: 24-7, 13-5
Best conference wins: vs. Wichita State, at Evansville
Worst conf. losses: at Drake, vs. Illinois State
Non-conf. wins: vs. Wisconsin (neutral), vs. Arizona State (neutral), at California
Non-conf. losses: vs. Boise State, at St. Mary’s
Current run: Four straight conference wins
NCAA Outlook: 8/9-seed if they win the tourney, 10/11-seed if they lose before the Championship
Quick note: Doug McDermott is the player to know. He has 73 points and 17 rebounds in the last two games. He shot 15-of-18 from the field in their last win against Wichita State. The Bluejays hit a rough stretch at the beginning of February, but have now won four straight conference games with a loss at St. Mary’s in the middle. They had trouble on the road throughout the season, but were exceptional in neutral site games. A rematch with Indiana State could be in the cards in their second game. They lost to the Sycamores by 19 points in their last meeting. Last year in the NCAA Tourney, the Bluejays lost to No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Round of 32.

Record: 24-7, 12-6
Best conference wins: vs. Creighton, at Indiana State
Worst conf. losses: vs. Evansville, vs. Indiana State
Non-conf. wins: at VCU, vs. Iowa (neutral), vs. Southern Miss (neutral), vs. Detroit
Non-conf. losses: at Tennessee
Current run: Two straight losses
NCAA Outlook: 8/9-seed if they win the tourney, 10/11-seed if they lose before the Championship
Quick note: If they can get back on track, the Shockers could cause problems for a lot of teams in March Madness. Their early season win at VCU is proof of that, but much like Creighton, they hit a blip in early February and lost three straight games. They sort of got things back together with a five-game winning streak, but have recently lost two straight. If they can get their winning edge back, like when they started the season 15-1, they should be able to make a better run in the tourney this year. In 2012, they lost to 12-seed VCU in their first game.

Record: 18-13, 11-7
UNI gets Illinois State in their first game, a team they had no trouble with during the regular season. If they can beat them a third time, a date with Wichita State in the semis is likely. The two split the season series with the home team winning both games. The Panthers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since their unlikely run to the Sweet 16 back in 2010. It’s going to take a lot to make it back, but they’ve already beaten the top two teams in the conference, so it’s possible.

Record: 18-13, 10-8
The Aces won their last four games of the season to get them where they are right now, the number 4-seed in the tourney. They’ll face Indiana State first, a team they just recently beat by 16 points. Of course, the status of Manny Arop – one of ISU’s top players – could decide the game. Senior Colt Ryan averages 20 points per game and has scored at least 29 in three of the last four games. It’s going to take a lot to stop him, but Creighton has had Evansville’s number this year, and that’s who they will get if they make it to the semifinals.

Record: 17-13, 9-9
Indiana State could be the team to watch out for if they get Manny Arop back. Arop, their second leading scorer and top rebounder, was suspended for the team’s last two games. With a full squad, the Sycamores have beaten the likes of Ole Miss, Miami (FL), Creighton and Wichita State. While they have lost five of their last six games, they have the ability to beat anyone in this league when they’re at full strength.

Prediction: This conference is surprisingly deep, with all teams within seven games of each other in the standings. While that’s true, the two teams at the top are, hands down, the best teams in the conference. Another game between Creighton and Wichita State would be fun to see. If McDermott can stay hot, it’s going to be hard for anyone to beat the Bluejays in this tournament. I’ll take them over the Shockers in the Championship game.