The Valley is, and always will be, the ultimate mid-major conference.
Every year, it seems, this league produces at least one team deserving of an at-large bid that is also capable of making the second weekend of the tournament. Why? Because the conference is so unbelievably competitive. Road wins are not easy to come by. Blowouts are fairly unheard of. Generally speaking, the MVC is as balanced of a conference as you are going to find, and I’m sure that whoever is in charge of putting together the bracket for Arch Madness — which is an event I’ve yet to attend but currently sits just below seeing a Duke-North Carolina game live on my college hoops bucket list — is well-versed in the tie-breakers that determine seeding.
This season is a bit unique. What was once thought to be a banner year for the Valley turned into two teams pulling away from the pack. Wichita State won the league by two games over Creighton, who finished five games in front of the mess that was a five-way tie for third place in the conference. Seriously. Five teams finished 9-9 and a sixth slid it at 8-10. I was saying something about balance earlier …
Anyway, the Valley is a two-bid league regardless of who win this tournament. Wichita State and Creighton are dancing. But if I was a betting man, I would bet the field to win the automatic bid.
That’s just the way they do it in the Valley.
Where: St. Louis
When: March 1st-March 4th
Final: March 4th, 1:05 p.m., CBS
Favorite: Wichita State
Back in November, this fact would have been fairly shocking to most. Creighton was playing their best basketball of the season with a legitimate Player of the Year candidate on their roster while the Shockers were competing with, but losing to, some borderline top 25 teams. It was clear the Shockers were good, but that they became this good — WSU is currently eighth in Kenpom’s rankings — is an impressive feat. But the Shockers are also the hottest team in the country. They won their last six games by an average of 20.7 ppg. That includes a trip to Davidson and a trip to Creighton. The worst team they beat in that run finished in the middle of the Valley pack. Watch out.
And if they lose?: Creighton
I have my reservations about the Bluejays. They don’t defend at an elite level and they have looked fairly ordinary over the last three weeks. But this is a veteran group with a number of weapons, headlined by all-american Doug McDermott, that has proven capable of winning close games. Throw in the fact that the Bluejays shoot the ball as well as any team in the country, and they are always going to be a threat. If they get hot for three days in St. Louis, there is no reason that Creighton can’t come away MVC Tournament champs.
Sleepers: There are almost too many to name. Indiana State won the league last year and returned most of their lineup, landing a couple of marquee wins throughout non-conference play. Northern Iowa had an impressive start to the season. Missouri State, Drake and Evansville all have legitimate stars on their roster. Like I said, this tournament is going to be a lot of fun.
– Kyle Weems, Missouri State: The reigning MVC Player of the Year took a while to get going, but he is as capable of taking over a game as anyone in the conference. He had 31 when the Bears beat Creighton in Omaha.
– Rayvonte Rice and Ben Simons, Drake: There is a legitimate argument to make that these two are the MVC’s best one-two scoring punch.
– Colt Ryan, Evansville: When this kid gets hot, watch out. He went for 43 points in an overtime loss to Creighton.
– Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: The seven-footer is the best big man in the conference and one of the reasons that the Shockers won’t have a much of an issue as other mid-majors matching up with high-major front lines.
– Doug McDermott, Creighton: How many all-americans make their way through the Valley?
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.