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Missouri Valley Conference - Home Stretch

MVC Homepage

Missouri Valley Basketball

by Dave, February 25th, 2003

The race for the Missouri Valley Title is a two horse dead heat to the finish with everyone else jockeying for position in the conference tournament. All teams have three games left to solidify their seed and try to move up a spot or two. Creighton has been the odds on favorite from the start, but they have been tied with Southern Illinois for the lead since January 23. Southern has the inside track to the finish with a home game vs. Creighton on March 1. Here are the standings and the outlook for each Missouri Valley team.

MVC OVERALL STANDINGS

School Record Pct. Record Pct. Home Away Neutral
Creighton 13-2 .867 24-3 .889 16-0 6-3 2-0
Southern Illinois 13-2 .867 19-5 .792 12-0 7-5 0-0
Wichita State 11-4 .733 16-8 .667 12-3 4-5 0-0
Southwest Missouri State 11-4 .733 15-9 .625 8-4 7-5 0-0
Evansville 6-9 .400 10-14 .417 8-5 2-9 0-0
Bradley 6-9 .400 10-16 .385 7-6 1-10 2-0
Northern Iowa 5-10 .333 9-15 .375 7-4 2-11 0-0
Drake 4-11 .267 9-17 .346 5-6 3-10 1-1
Illinois State 4-11 .267 6-18 .250 5-8 1-10 0-0
Indiana State 2-13 .133 6-20 .231 5-7 0-11 1-2

-Stats from www.mvc.org

Creighton was heavily favored to win the conference, and they have been ranked as high as #10 in the AP Poll, but they fell at Evansville on January 23 when Kyle Korver had an off night, giving hope to the other top MVC teams. The Blue Jays will have to win all three of their final games to guarantee themselves pole position at the conference tournament, and that will not be an easy task because they play the top three other teams in the conference. They travel to Southwest Missouri State on Wednesday, then to Southern Illinois on Saturday, before returning home Monday to take on Wichita State, who beat them on February 15 in Wichita. Creightonís lane to the finish line looks more like an Equestrian course than a racetrack, but if Korver can avoid any more bad games, they can ride him all the way to the finish over everyone in the way.

Southern Illinois definitely has the inside track in this race. They play at home against Evansville, who is 2-9 on the road, and then they get the chance to go head to head with Creighton Saturday night in Carbondale, where SIU has won 25 straight games. It is an 8:05pm tip-off, and the SIU Arena crowd will undoubtedly be hyped for the Salukiís biggest game of the season. SIU already had a chance to pull ahead in the Missouri Valley race on February 15 when Creighton lost at Wichita, but then SIU lost in overtime at Bradley later in the day. Southernís other in-state rival will also have a chance to do them in, as they travel to Redbird Arena to take on Illinois State for the final game of the regular season on March 3rd.

Wichita State has learned how to win on the road, and that has made them a solid contender for third place, with an outside shot at second. After losing their first four road games of the season, they have won four out of their last five away from home, including two in a row as part of their current four-game winning steak. They will be heavily favored when they return home Tuesday night to take on Bradley, and then their schedule gets tough. They finish the season at Southwest Missouri State and at Creighton. If Wichita beats Bradley and SMS, they secure the 3 seed and will possibly be playing for the 2 seed at Creighton. Since Wichita won their first meeting with SMS, they will own the tiebreaker over them if they beat them again. If they lose at SMS, they are all but guaranteed the 4 seed, which may be as good a seed as any this year since they would be matched up with a weak 5 seed in round one, then get more rest than the 3 seed before taking on SIU or Creighton.

Southwest Missouri State made it to February 8th with only one conference loss because they had not played SIU or Creighton yet. Since then they have lost twice to SIU and once to Creighton, and they have to play Creighton again on Wednesday. SMS is not going to win any tiebreakers over SIU (got swept) or Creighton (SIU is highest common opponent for the point system), so the 3 seed is the best they can do unless SIU or Creighton losses all three remaining games and SMS wins all three of theirs. SMS finishes the season with three home games, and even if they lose their first one to Creighton, they can still get the 3 seed by beating Wichita on Saturday, then taking care of business vs. Northern Iowa on Monday and hoping Creighton does the same with Wichita. The 3 seed, however, may not be a prize worth hoping for because it leads to a very difficult second round match-up with the 2 seed on short rest. The 4 seed actually gets more rest before facing the 1 seed in round two.

There is a big gap in the records between the top four and bottom six teams this year, but some of the lower teams are capable of pulling off an upset or two in the conference tournament. Evansville, for example, beat Creighton earlier in the year when they seemed invincible. Evansville is currently fighting for the 5 seed with Bradley, and the 5 seed is the only decent one left. The 5 and 6 seeds will each get a chance to upset either SMS or WSU in round one, but if their upset attempt is successful, the 5 seed will get an extra 3 and a half hours of rest before taking on SIU or Creighton. If the 6 seed upsets the 3 seed, they will only have 18 hours to recuperate and prepare for tip-off vs. the 2 seed.

The race for the 5 seed is an interesting one between Evansville and Bradley, with Northern Iowa having a shot if they both collapse. Evansville and Bradley both have a tough road game this week. Bradley goes to Wichita, and Evansville goes to Southern. Both will likely come home losers, and Northern Iowa plays at Indiana State, where they can win to create a three-way tie for 5th place. On Saturday, Evansville plays at Bradley, and Northern Iowa will have a chance to move into a tie for fifth place with the winner of the UE-BU game by beating Drake at the UNI Dome. On the last day of the season, Northern Iowa travels to SMS, where they will likely lose; Bradley travels to Drake, where they can win; and Evansville hosts Indiana State, who they should beat. What does this all mean? The fifth seed is up for grabs, and the Saturday game between Evansville and Bradley is huge.

Drake is coming off a big win at Evansville, where Drakeís Luke McDonnald broke out of a season long slump to score 28 points, including 5 threes. Drake was picked to finish in the top half of the Valley because of McDonnald, but his poor performance had kept the team near the cellar. If he is truly back on track, look out for Drake. We will find out when they host Illinois State Wednesday night. On Saturday Drake travels to Northern Iowa, then finishes the season at home vs. Bradley. If Drake wins all of their remaining games, they could finish as high as 6th place with some help, but 7th place is more realistic, and they can really help their cause because all three of their remaining games are against teams they have a chance of overtaking in the standings.

Illinois State is currently tied with Drake for 8th place, and that is certainly not where they wanted to be at this point. The 5 seed is not mathematically impossible, but due to the tiebreaker system, it would require a long list of outcomes including two more losses by Creighton, a win by Indiana State on the road, and a total eclipse of Saturn by one of Jupiterís moons. The 6 seed is also a long shot, and is not even a good seed to get. The 7 seed is the best of the bad seeds remaining. If ISU can finish 7th, they get to play Indiana State on Friday night of the tournament at 8:30pm, then they get all day Saturday to rest up for their 6pm game vs. the 2 seed. If they can pull off that upset, they get more rest than their Sunday opponent who plays in the game after them Saturday night. The 7 seed also gets to avoid the 1 seed until the championship game.

In order to stay in the running for the 7 seed, ISU will need to beat Drake on Wednesday night. A loss would put ISU a game behind Drake (with Drake owning the tiebreaker), and probably two games behind Northern Iowa, with two games left. Since Drake and Northern Iowa play each other this Saturday, catching both of them would be impossible. If ISU wins at Drake, they will either be tied with or one game behind Northern Iowa for 7th place. Then even if UNI beats Drake, all ISU needs to do is win at Indiana State on Saturday to keep pace. On the final day of the season, UNI has to play at SMS, where they will probably lose. ISU hosts SIU, and a victory will give the Redbirds the tiebreaker over Northern Iowa. If ISU loses to SIU and ends up tied with UNI, UNI will probably win the tiebreaker because their win over Wichita will be worth a lot of points.

The Redbirds just won their first road game of the season at Marshall as part of Bracket Buster Saturday, and they will need to follow it up with a win at Drake to avoid playing in the 8 vs. 9 game in the MVC Tournament. Those are the two worst seeds to have because they play at 6pm on Friday night of the tournament, then the winner has to bounce back and play the 1 seed at noon the next day.

Indiana State has all but wrapped up the 10 seed, which is equal to the 7 seed, and not as bad of a place to start as the 8 and 9 seeds. In order to have a reasonable chance to avoid last place, Indiana State will need to beat Northern Iowa and Illinois State at home, and then go win at Evansville. Even if Indiana State is able to crawl out of the cellar, their only reward is a tougher seed in the conference tournament.

Creighton is the only Valley team that can rest easy on Selection Sunday even if they do not win the conference tournament, but SIU also greatly increased their chances of an at-large bid by beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee in their Bracket Buster game Saturday, and the fact that the MVC went 4-0 on the day helped to make the case for a second bid for the conference. SIU will still probably have to win the regular season title in order to relax after they lose in the conference tournament. Either SMS or Wichita could also make a case for an at-large bid if they win their final three regular season games and make a good showing in the conference tournament, and the NIT could be in both of their futures, but everyone else is playing strictly for a seed that will give them a chance to make a miracle run and win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. This Saturday will be a huge day in the Valley, because as the standings sit now, it will pit 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 5 vs. 6, 7 vs. 8, and 9 vs. 10.

E-Mail the Author: DAVE

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