By: Grant Pomatto
This 10 team league is an interesting one in the landscape that there aren’t multiple bids that are given to this conference on a year-to-year basis. The valley usually sending only one team to the big dance, rarely two teams. Which is why the conference tournament is very important to the teams in this conference. This year the conference features three teams that enter the race with hope of contending against Wichita State at the top. Here are the four teams that are most likely to contend for the automatic bid into the big dance.
Favorite: Wichita State
Averaging 74.2ppg and shooting 43.8% from the field, the Shockers are again the favorite to win the Valley Conference Tournament this year. After a upsetting loss in the conference semi-finals to Illinois State last year, Wichita is looking for redemption. Falling in and out of the top 25 this year, this team is capable of showing instances of greatness this year by beating a good Utah team early in the year. However, there have been a few losses that keep the question hovering over their heads, do they have what it takes to be a serious contender to win the entire thing? Seniors Fred VlanVleet and Ron Baker hope to finish their last years off right with a title championship for the Shockers. Behind the backcourt of these two, Wichita State looks to exceed people’s expectations. The Shockers have a 66.77% chance of winning the Conference Tournament and most likely will be in the big dance no matter where they finish in their conference tournament
Strong Contender: Northern Iowa Panthers
Coming into the tournament, Northern Iowa is the team that you don’t want to see if you’re ranked. Just ask North Carolina, Iowa State, or Wichita State. Northern Iowa has beaten all three of these teams throughout the year winning all three games very closely. Now Northern Iowa’s record doesn’t look very polished, however they are somebody to not take likely in the conference tournament. With an 11-7 record in the conference, they are middle of the pack but they are always a tough and pesky team to get passed as they look forward to winning the tournament two years in a row. Behind leading scorer Wes Washpun (14.1ppg) Northern Iowa looks to make a deep run into the conference tournament as probably their only hope to get in the big dance is most likely winning their conference championship. In order for Northern Iowa to win their consecutive conference championship they must be able to keep their opponents under 65 points and shoot less than 40%. Also forcing more than 12 turnovers a game will help their chance of winning the conference tournament which might be the only way that they get a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Weak Contender: Evansville Purple Aces
Averaging the most points per game in the MVC, the Evansville Purple Aces should not be taken lightly. Nobody knows enough about them; a team that flew under the radar this year compiling a 23-8 record (12-6 conference) finishing second in the league this year behind Wichita State. The keys for Evansville, keep teams under 65 points as 14 of their 23 wins have come when they have held their opponents to 65 points or less. Also, the team gets to the free throw line about 25 times per game and makes about 73% of their team’s free throws. Behind their junior leading scorer D.J. Balentine (20.7ppg) Evansville looks to get past the quarter-finals this year and contend for the title. With the team’s strength of schedule not being very good, they must look to win the conference tournament in order for a bid.
Dark Horse: Illinois State Redbirds
Illinois State is another team like Northern Iowa where their record isn’t polished either (18-13). However, this year they were the pesky team in the conference that showed heart and resiliency throughout their regular season. With a better conference record (12-6) than non-conference record this year, Illinois State looks like the team that can again get back to their conference championship and hopefully win it this time (lost to Northern Iowa last year). Playing teams this year out of conference like Maryland and Kentucky helped the team down the road as they played these two top teams very well and competed with them throughout the game. They keys for them to win is to force turnovers as they turnover teams 14 times per game. The style of play for the Redbirds is to keep the scoring low and play stifling defense. Illinois State likes to keep their games slow, methodical, and close. If they are able to keep the games close, they have a shot to win the conference championship and get their automatic bid. They are the dark horse of the conference that teams shouldn’t overlook or else the teams they face will be in a situation where they will be watching from the sidelines as they continue throughout the tournament.
The arch madness starts on Wednesday with play in games in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center. Overall, the conference doesn’t have that many teams that are in contention to win their conference championship. These four teams have the best shot on winning the trophy and cutting down the nets in St. Louis. The best time of the year is here and March Madness has officially begun.