The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament gets underway with first-round matchups on Thursday. ‘Arch Madness,’ as it is so affectionately called, only has one legitimate option for a championship game on Sunday. However, it will take a lot of work for the top two teams to advance once play gets underway.
The No. 1 Loyola-Chi Ramblers and No. 2 Drake Bulldogs each claimed a share of the regular season title with a (12-6) conference record. That’s hardly a dominant performance. Therefore, the MVC has no guarantees to get their best team into the NCAA Tournament. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely the MVC receives an at-large bid due so much parity this season. Yet, the Bulldogs enter the postseason as the only 20-win team with a (23-8) record.
Top Seed: Loyola-Chi Ramblers: The Ramblers defeated the Bulldogs twice. As a result, they won the tie-breaker and the No. 1 seed. Both teams get a bye into the quarterfinals. They will also face the winners of the first round matchups. Keep in mind, these are relevant games and may make all the difference in the world. The Ramblers are (4-0) against the No. 8 Indiana State Sycamores and No. 9 Valparaiso Crusaders. They will face the winner of Thursday’s 8-9 game on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs might really be the underdog in their quarterfinal matchup. They are (1-3) against their potential opponents in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs opened the conference season with a double overtime loss to the No. 10 Evansville Purple Aces. They did win the second game by 12 points. However, the Bulldogs were swept by the No. 7 Illinois State Redbirds. More importantly, the Redbirds are (4-6) in their last 10 games. Two of those wins came against the Bulldogs. We could see the third installment on Friday night.
Sleeper Team: Are you allowed to be a sleeper team as the No. 3 seed? If so, the Southern Illinois Salukis could be the team to watch. They are (7-3) in their last 10 games, including three straight wins to end the regular season. The Salukis swept the Northern Iowa Panthers during the regular season. It just so happens that is their first-round matchup. The Salukis were also swept by the Bulldogs. However, it’s a big question mark on who advances into the semifinals. As a result, the Salukis could be the favorite to advance to the finals.
Two more teams have an opportunity to shock the MVC tournament. The No. 4 Missouri State Bears and No. 5 Bradley Braves have had their share of success in conference play. Yes, the Bears have swept the Braves during the regular season. But did you know they also swept the No. 1 seed Ramblers this season. They have been hot and cold throughout the season, but we can’t overlook the 35-point victory the Bears put on Ramblers in late January. However, the Bears have lost two straight games to end the regular season.
When it’s all said and done, the winner of the MVC Tournament should be a tough out as a first-round opponent. Right now, the Ramblers are projected as a No. 15 seed. How often does that happen to a team that made the Final Four the previous season?