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Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards: Can the Valley get two teams in?

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The Missouri Valley Conference tournament — known by Valley fans as Arch Madness because of its St. Louis location — will be especially intriguing this season. As one of the only mid-major leagues with a legitimate chance to get two teams into the 2017 NCAA tournament the Missouri Valley Conference tournament will have a lot of eyeballs on it this week.

Casual college basketball fans are surely familiar with Wichita State after their recent successes but Illinois State was another important story during the conference season. The Redbirds enter this week as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament as they tied the Shockers with a 17-1 mark in conference play (with Wichita State and Illinois State splitting the regular-season series).

Outside of Illinois State and Wichita State the rest of the Valley has seen a down year — which is part of the reason the Redbirds and Shockers are hovering near the bubble.

Can Illinois State and Wichita State both get in the field if they meet for the title?

The Bracket

When: March 2-5

Where: Scottrade Center; St. Louis, Missouri

Final: Sunday, March 5, 2 p.m. EST, CBS

Favorite: Wichita State

The Shockers come in as the No. 2 seed but they are throttling opponents lately during a 12-game winning streak. Wichita State owns a scoring margin of 19.5 this season — second only to Gonzaga — and every win on the current streak has come by at least 15 points. One of the most balanced teams in the country, this year’s Shockers might not have future pros like Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, but they go 10 deep and wear opponents down over the course of a game.

And if they lose?: Illinois State

Illinois State is the No. 1 seed in this tournament as they feature a tough and experienced roster that is also riding a six-game winning streak. Not nearly as dominant as Wichita State when it comes to margin of victory, the Redbirds had to sneak by to win some games the last few weeks as they’ve managed to stay 17-1 in conference play. Illinois State loves to slow down the tempo (308th in adjusted tempo on KenPom) and rely on its No. 10 overall defense (per KenPom) to do most of its damage. The Redbirds have a suffocating defense led by senior point guard Paris Lee and his Valley-leading 2.0 steals per game as they rank fourth in the country in field goal defense as opponents are only shooting 37.7 percent against them.

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Other Contenders:

  • Northern Iowa: Just like last season, Northern Iowa is one of the most confusing teams in the country. The Panthers lost five straight to start conference play, rallied by winning nine of 10 and then lost the final three games to close out conference play. Northern Iowa is talented enough to make noise as the No. 3 seed but they’re wildly inconsistent.
  • Southern Illinois: The Salukis only finished .500 in conference play but they’re sitting at the No. 4 seed thanks to a weak year in the Valley. Southern Illinois might not be as competitive as a typical four seed in this event but they do have some steady seniors in guard Mike Rodriguez and forward Sean O’Brien. Talented sophomore guard Armon Fletcher is also showing signs of breaking out of a recent slump after netting the go-ahead three to beat Loyola last week.

Sleeper: Loyola

Revenge will be on Loyola’s mind this week as they get a crack at Southern Illinois in the quarterfinals before potentially playing Illinois State in the semifinals. The significance of those two in-state games for the Ramblers? Loyola lost to both teams, on the road, by two points each, during the last two weekends of conference play.

In fact, Loyola has seen eight of its 13 losses get decided by four points or less this season. Loyola has to be tired of falling in close games and they get one more chance to make a run here.

The Bubble Dwellers: 2

  • Wichita State: If Wichita State wants to help its computer numbers then they should hope to play Bradley, Northern Iowa and then Illinois State to fully enhance their resume. The Shockers have a gaudy record but only six top-100 games all season (2-4 record), so a title-game rubber match against a top-50 team like Illinois State should help computer numbers — regardless of the outcome.
  • Illinois State: If Illinois State hopes to enhance its NCAA tournament profile in the best way possible they should hope for Evansville, Southern Illinois and Wichita State as opponents during Arch Madness. The Redbirds are slightly higher than Wichita State in current RPI but they’ve played even fewer top-100 opponents (2-3 record). As explained above, it likely helps Illinois State if they play Wichita State in the championship game — win or lose — because it gives both teams an additional top-50 opponent.
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Missouri Valley Player of the Year: Paris Lee, Illinois State

The senior guard won a tight race over a handful of others as Lee separated himself from the group with another stellar defensive season. The NCAA’s active leader in career steals, Lee led the Valley in assists and steals per game this season as he averaged 13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. Improving dramatically on the offensive end, Lee upped his shooting percentages across the board, including a staggering rise from 31 percent to 41 percent as a three-point shooter.

Missouri Valley Coach of the Year: Dan Muller, Illinois State

You could make a strong case for Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall but Muller gets the slight edge for this award. Illinois State captured its first Missouri Valley Conference regular season title since 1998 and the Redbirds were able to do so despite missing senior MiKyle McIntosh for five games in the middle of conference play. Muller is now hoping to break another drought started in 1998 by taking his alma mater back to the NCAA tournament.

First-Team All-Missouri Valley:

  • Paris Lee, Illinois State (POY)
  • Landry Shamet, Wichita State: Only the fourth Valley freshman to ever grab first-team all-conference honors, Shamet averaged 11.4 points, 3.4 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting very efficiently (49% FG, 45% 3PT, 81% FT).
  • Milton Doyle, Loyola: Motivated to finish strong after a disappointing junior season, the 6-foot-4 Doyle came through in a big way for the Ramblers as he put up 15.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
  • Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa: Although his junior season was more efficient shooting the ball, Morgan was asked to do it all for the Panthers this season as he led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
  • Alize Johnson, Missouri State: One of 20 Division I players averaging a double-double this season, Johnson put up 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range. The junior is starting to generate some pro buzz.

Second Team All-Missouri Valley:

  • Jaylon Brown, Evansville
  • Markis McDuffie, Wichita State
  • Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State
  • MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State
  • Sean O’Brien, Southern Illinois

Defining moment of the season: When Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunked on Oklahoma’s Kristian Doolittle back in December, it signified that the Shockers would be just fine playing bigger opponents without Baker and Van Vleet. This is one of the better poster dunks of the year.

CBT Prediction: Wichita State over Illinois State (but both teams get in the NCAA tournament)

Michigan lands four-star 2018 forward Ignas Brazdeikis

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Michigan added to an already strong Class of 2018 recruiting haul on Friday night as four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis pledged to the Wolverines on Twitter.

The 6-foot-8 Canadian was one of the premier scorers in the Nike EYBL this past spring and summer playing with CIA Bounce as Brazdeikis averaged 21.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Well-rounded outside of his scoring, Brazdeikis also put up 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also showing a workable jumper that was 26 percent from three-point range.

With the job that Michigan head coach John Beilein has done developing forwards, most recently with the rapid improvement of players like D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, it’ll be fascinating to see how Brazdeikis will look at the college level after some time on campus. Beilein’s offense is favorable for skilled forwards with a penchant for scoring and Brazdeikis could end up being a tremendous fit for the Wolverines.

Brazdeikis becomes the fourth member of Michigan’s Class of 2018 recruiting haul as he joins four-star forward Brandon Johns, four-star guard David Dejulius and three-star forward Taylor Currie.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

Immanuel Quickley (USA Basketball)
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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”