By: Logan McKee, KCOU Sports
The Missouri Valley Conference has been a tale of two teams this season. Wichita State and Northern Iowa have had a stranglehold on the MVC posting a combined 33-3 record against conference foes. Albeit, this may be due to a lack of strong teams in the conference, but it is still notable. It is almost inevitable that the two will meet again in a highly anticipated rubber-match in the conference championship game.
The Shockers are used to having the target on their backs. Only one year ago, Wichita State went undefeated until it ran into John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats, losing a tightly contested game. Although, Gregg Marshall lost Cleanthony Early to the NBA, this Shockers squad still retains many of the same characteristics that made them so dominant just a year ago. Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet provide a more than formidable backcourt that has proven to be reliable. What separates Wichita State from everyone else in the MVC is a stifling defense. The Shockers have held their opponents to just under 56 points per game this season. If Baker and VanVleet spark enough offense for this team, the Shockers should be find themselves in the MVC championship game for the third consecutive year.
Standing in the Shockers’ way is a much improved Northern Iowa squad led by Wooden Award candidate Seth Tuttle. Tuttle has taken the college basketball world by storm this year and has thrust himself into player of year talks amidst names like Willie Cauley-Stein and D’Angelo Russell. Tuttle has shot over 60% from the field and nearly 45% from the beyond the arc while leading his team on the boards. Tuttle’s efforts are biggest reason why the Panthers went from a 16-win team last year to a team that has a chance to crack 30 wins. Like Wichita State, Northern Iowa also has held their opponents to under 60 points. More impressive is the fact that the Panthers have five players shooting 40% or better from downtown as they form one of the better three-point shooting teams in the nation.
As of right now, Joe Lunardi has only the previously mentioned teams making the big dance to represent the MVC. Needless to say, it would be a shock if any other school could knock off one of these juggernauts of the conference before they reach the championship game. Yet again, it is March so nothing should be chalked up as a given.
#9 Southern Illinois vs. #8 Missouri State
So who wants to lose to Wichita State? That’s basically what these conference bottom feeders all playing for now. Missouri State took away both regular season meetings so I’m rolling with the Southern Illinois Salukis to buck that trend in this one.
#10 Bradley vs. #7 Drake
Both of these squads failed to reach double digit wins in the regular season but I have Drake winning this one to reach 10 wins and thus going 3-for-3 against Bradley this season. Have fun with Seth Tuttle, Drake.
#1 Wichita State vs. #9 Southern Illinois
This one is going to be ugly. The Shockers are just too good and the Salukis just are not. Wichita State easily advances.
#4 Illinois State vs. #5 Evansville
The Illinois State Redbirds enter the tournament riding a four-game winning streak while Evansville stumbles in losers of three straight. These two met not even a week ago when Illinois State came out with an overtime victory. I see ISU coming away with another victory in this one.
#2 Northern Iowa vs. #7 Drake
The Panthers are rolling and Drake should be nothing more than a walk-through, but I don’t think it will go that way. I see Seth Tuttle and company coming out of the gate a little slow but eventually coming away with the victory.
#3 Indiana State vs. #6 Loyola
Loyola is one of the worst offensive teams in the nation. That being said, I’m picking
them to take this game from Indiana State because it’s March.
#1Wichita State vs. #4 Illinois State
Illinois State held their ground against the mighty Shockers in the regular season losing both matchups by single digits. Wichita State will ultimately come out on top due to their experience and overall firepower.
#2 Northern Iowa vs. #6 Loyola
Like most of Northern Iowa’s opponents this season, Loyola is just overmatched. Seth Tuttle will prove to be too much and the Panthers will win easy and advance to the championship.
#1 Wichita State vs. #2 Northern Iowa
The matchup everyone wants to see because everyone else in the conference stinks. The two squads split regular season meetings thus increasing the dramatics of this conference championship game. I’m expecting a close, hard-fought game. I’m picking Northern Iowa to capture its fourth MVC championship title.