By Connor McCann
The Missouri Valley Conference was represented by one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time last year. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago shocked the world by becoming only the fourth team to reach the Final Four from that seed. In this year’s “Arch Madness” MVC men’s tournament played in St. Louis, the Ramblers are once again favored after earning the No. 1 seed with a 12-6 conference record.
Even then, Loyola was not the only team to win a share of the MVC title in the regular season. The Drake Bulldogs also finished conference play with a 12-6 record, and boasted a better overall record of 23-8. However, Drake took a big hit during its final game of the regular season. The team lost point guard D.J. Wilkins to a broken ankle that will keep him out for the remainder of his freshman season. Wilkins led Drake in both minutes played and assists.
The No. 1 or 2 seed has won the Missouri Valley tournament in six of the last seven seasons.
This year is shaping up to be no different.
Southern Illinois and Missouri State were the only other teams in the conference to go above .500 in conference play, but posted a combined 3-5 record against the top two teams. Missouri State did beat Loyola twice this season, including a 70-35 bludgeoning of the Ramblers on Jan. 23. For that reason, I’m picking the Bears as my sleeper pick.
If there’s one player to watch in this tournament, its Missouri Valley Player of the Year and Loyola guard Marques Townes. Townes led the league in scoring with 18.1 points per game during conference play. He had incredible success against the other powerhouse in the conference, scoring 28 and 32 points respectively in the team’s two meetings against Drake this season. Maybe more importantly, both he led the Ramblers to two wins. Townes can score in bunches and efficiently- he shot just under 49 percent from the field on the season.
Another player to keep an eye on is the conference’s defensive player of the year Nick McGlynn. McGlynn finished the season with a first-team all-MVC selection, and finished second behind Townes for the player of the year award after averaging 15.6 points and a conference-high 8.5 rebounds a game.
All signs point toward a third meeting between Drake and Loyola for a bid to the big dance. Drake is an up-and-coming program, but I don’t think that they’ll be able to keep up with a Loyola group who has more experience than anyone else in the conference when it comes to big games. Having the ever-charismatic Sister Jean in your corner seems to provide a bit of magic as well.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org