2022 Arch Madness Preview
One of the most exciting MVC regular seasons in recent memory was capped appropriately with a winner-take-all contest between UNI and Loyola. Following a trend we’ve seen all season, the game went to overtime where the Panthers claimed the trophy at home. While Northern Iowa came out on top, three more teams finished just a game behind in what has to be one of the craziest championship chases in the history of the league. Now we move onto Arch Madness, my favorite weekend of the year, where the craziness of the standings sets up for an absolutely epic weekend of college hoops. I am going to attempt to preview the event, but let’s be real. Aint nobody knows what is going to happen at the Enterprise Center this weekend. Before we get to the big event, I am going to take a look at some of the other relevant league tournaments that start this week.
Horizon League Tournament
Valley fans got their league tournament appetizer on Tuesday when the UIC Flames won their Horizon League Tournament opener at Milwaukee, 80-69. The Flames entered the competition on a bit of a roll, having won three games in a row and four out of their last five. They are now 7-3 overall in their last ten games. The 8th seeded Flames had to play at 9th seeded Milwaukee because the Horizon League still feels butt hurt about UIC leaving, and having to cave to public pressure to do the right thing and allow them to play in the tournament. The win advanced them to the quarterfinals where they will play at 2nd seeded Fort Wayne (the HL reseeds the tournament after the first round for some reason) at 6pm (CT) on Thursday. The semifinals and finals are played at a “neutral site” in Indianapolis that also happens to be the homecourt of one of its members (IUPUI) because the Horizon League is not a good league. Those games run Monday and Tuesday.
Ohio Valley Tournament
Murray State survived another scare on Saturday to finish the OVC regular season undefeated, while Belmont cruised to a win as well. That sets up the Racers and Bruins to be the #1 and #2 seeds, respectively, in the OVC Tournament that starts on Wednesday (but doesn’t start for MSU or BU until Friday). The OVC has a silly, mid-major style tournament bracket where the top two teams get double byes, the next two get one bye, and the bottom four teams start in the first round. It is also hosted by the Purple Aces of Evansville. Murray will play their semifinal game at 7pm (CT) on Friday on ESPNU. They’ll most likely play SEMO who gave them a huge run for their money in their most recent game. Belmont will play the next semifinal game at 9:30pm on ESPNU. They’ll most likely play Morehead State who was a thorn in the side to both the Racers and Bruins all season. The OVC Championship is the next day at 7:30 on ESPN2. It is perfectly timed to watch at the bar after the Arch Madness semifinals. If you are a Valley fan that would like to see our future members play in the dance, you are probably rooting for Belmont here as Murray will likely be in the tournament no matter what happens. If you are concerned about Loyola making it as an at-large though, you don’t want Belmont to win as they would be a bid thief. A win for Murray would also help their seeding and give them a chance to make a run. Regardless, it should be a fun weekend for both future MVC members.
Other Mid Major Tournaments
If you’re a fan of mid-major basketball, there will be plenty to keep you busy this week. Several mid-major league tournaments get underway in the coming days, including a few that are noteworthy for one reason or another. The Summit League Tournament features several of our MVFC friends with a solid chance to make it to the dance and it runs Saturday through Tuesday. MVFC member South Dakota State is the 1-seed in that tournament, MVFC member North Dakota State is the two, last year’s sweet 16 dandies Oral Roberts are 3rd, former MVC expansion candidate Kansas City sits 4th, MVFC members South Dakota and Western Illinois are 5th and 6th, and former MVC expansion candidates Omaha are 8th. MVFC members North Dakota missed the field. The CAA Tournament runs Saturday through Tuesday too. Usually a solid mid-major league, the CAA went the petty route and didn’t allow James Madison to participate in the tournament in advance of their move to the Sun Belt. So I say screw ‘em. The Southern Conference is a very good mid-major league once again. Every team in the league won double digit games and three won 20+. It doesn’t look entirely unlike the MVC. It should be a very competitive, fun tournament running Friday through Monday.
Game 1: #8 Illinois State (12-19, 5-13) vs. #9 Indiana State (11-19, 4-14) – MVC TV: In what has become an odd trend the last couple years, the tournament opener will be a rematch of a game that occurred on the last day of the regular season. It will be one of two such rematches in the tournament this year after it happened last year in the opener (Illinois State-UNI) as well. Saturday’s ISU-ISU game was won by Illinois State in blowout fashion, 86-66. The result was surprisingly one-sided for two teams that seem to be evenly matched, and one wonders if perhaps Indiana State held back a few tricks they may have up their sleeve knowing there would be a rematch. The game was likely more important to the Redbirds, playing at home on senior day for a coach that has yet to pick up a W. Whether that is true or not, I do expect this one to be closer than the game on we saw on Saturday. Both these teams struggled a lot this year, but both can put up good performances at any given time. The Sycamores run a complicated offensive scheme and they seem to be figuring it out, albeit inconsistently. While they struggled against Illinois State, they had very little issue on Wednesday against UNI when they shot 57% and scored 82 points. Whether they can put it together and get downhill against the Redbirds on Thursday will go a long way towards determining who will win this one. Illinois State entered Saturday’s game losers of five in a row and ten of their last eleven. They, too, have been very inconsistent offensively, but busted out against the Trees. The ‘Birds will likely go as far as Antonio Reeves and Josiah Strong can take them. Reeves can take over a game, as he did on Saturday when he scored 28 points against the Trees. Indiana State has a few guys who can do that too, chief among them Cooper Neese who only scored three points on Saturday. Don’t expect that to happen again. The Sycamores are a team full of transfers, mostly from the D2 ranks, and most of the team will be playing in their first Arch Madness. This has the potential to be a sloppy game between two teams that are (not including the two games against each other) a combined 2-16 since January 26th. But it should still be entertaining for the neutrals and a fun way to kick off the madness.
Game 2: #7 Valparaiso (13-17, 6-12) vs. #10 Evansville (6-23, 2-16) – MVC TV: This one isn’t a rematch from Saturday, but the teams are still quite familiar with each other having played twice in the last two weeks. Valpo won both games but had to rally in the second half to pull off a five-point home win in their most recent meeting last week. The Beacons were one of the disappointments of this Valley season as they have several talented players but couldn’t put it all together. Ben Krikke, Kobe King, Kevion Taylor, Sheldon Edwards and Thomas Kithier are all great players, and it feels like this squad should have won more than a third of their league games. Pairs of wins over Indiana State and Evansville are all the winning Valpo has done since they beat an AJ-Green-less UNI in January. They are 2-5 over their last seven, with both wins coming against UE. They are still potentially dangerous and could make a run in the tournament, but they could also lose this opener too. On the other side, the question is “Does Evansville have a W in them”? Losers of seven straight and ten of their last eleven, Evansville is…..well…..pretty bad. They recently lost a game to Drake where they trailed 51-16 at one point, and we all remember the 82-31 drubbing they took too Loyola last week. Some metrics have this UE squad as one of the worst MVC teams in the last two decades. But last week they nearly won at Valpo and played a very close game at home against Missouri State as well. To be fair, those performances sandwiched a 51-point loss to Loyola. I wasn’t able to find anything on whether or not Jawaun Newton might return for the game, but his return would be huge for UE. He is one of their two best players and so far, Shamar Givance hasn’t been able to pull off a W on his own. Valpo will be the favorite here, and rightly so. The Beacons have the talent to put Evansville away early and have their starters resting for much of the second half. But they also have it in them to keep Evansville in it. The longer the Aces hang around, the more their confidence will raise and the more likely they are to pull off an upset. I still think a blowout Valpo win is more likely than an Evansville win of any kind, but I won’t count out UE. As a neutral, I am hoping for an exciting game.
Game 3: #1 Northern Iowa (18-10, 14-4) vs. Game 1 Winner – MVC TV: UNI played both these teams in the last two weeks of the regular season and while they won both games, in both instances they struggled. The Panthers played Illinois State in the first game after the…..resignation(?)......of Dan Muller and the Redbirds had a shot in the air at the buzzer that would have sent the game to OT. Indiana State led UNI late, and the game was within two into the final minutes before UNI eked out a six-point win. In addition to that, the Sycamores nearly pulled out a win at UNI earlier in the season with only seven players available. Both ISUs must feel like they are capable of beating UNI, and wouldn’t be unprecedented. As we all remember, in 2020 UNI became the first #1 seed to lose a quarterfinal game at Arch Madness. All that said, the Panthers are coming in hot. They’ve won nine out of ten, and fourteen out of seventeen overall after a 4-7 start to the season. Better health and understanding of roles have led to more success in Cedar Falls. AJ Green is doing his thing, Noah Carter has emerged as a solid #2, and Bowen Born has really come on strong lately as well. All three were recognized by the league this week with a second Larry Bird Trophy for Green, 2nd team all-league status for Carter, and the Sixth Man of the Year Award for Born. The is the best UNI team offensively in years, and they’ve really purred of late scoring 102, 88 and 95 points in their last three games. Northern Iowa really struggled to contain Indiana State in their last meeting as the Sycamores shot 57% in their 88-82 loss to UNI. It seemed they could get an open shot any time they wanted. They had to go into an uncharacteristic-for-them zone defense to slow ISU down just enough to get the win. Illinois State had solid offensive spurts as well in their most recent game against UNI. I went to Arch Madness for sixteen years from 2004-2019 without seeing a Thursday team win a game. It got to the point where I thought it might not be possible. But Drake and Valpo opened the flood gates in 2020 and now nada es impossible. Both ISUs have shown they are capable of pulling upsets. Indiana State did beat Missouri State already and nearly got UNI twice. Illinois State toppled Bradley and took Wisconsin, Drake and UNI to the brink. UNI will be heavily favored no matter who they play, but the Panthers will need to continue to roll offensively and tighten the screws defensively if they don’t want this one to get interesting.
Game 4: #4 Loyola (22-7, 13-5) vs. #5 Bradley (17-13, 11-7) – MVC TV: On paper, is this the best MVC quarterfinal game ever? Maybe? There are probably some from the mid-2000s that would give it a run for its money. But it certainly is the best, at least on paper, in quite some time in terms of the total quality of both teams combined. On one hand you have Loyola, a legitimate NCAA bubble team that has played in Sweet 16s and a Final Four in the recent past. On the other you have Bradley, who has won this event twice in the last three years and was the hottest team in the league a couple weeks ago. In this year’s top-heavy Valley, the 4-5 game was always going to involve two heavy hitters no matter how it played out. Loyola and Bradley combined for 24 conference wins and only 12 losses. Last year, fifth seeded Evansville had 11 league losses on their own and their opponents, fourth seeded Indiana State fired their coach after the season. This is simply a big-time game. It is also one the Ramblers probably need to win to realistically have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. I guess the same could technically be said about every team in every game on the first two days of the tournament. But Loyola is the only one among us with a shot at an at-large bid. After losing twice in their last four games, though, they probably can’t afford another one in the quarterfinals. Loyola will be the favorite here, but these squads split during the regular season, and it was closer to a Braves sweep than a Rambler sweep. It took a furious rally for Loyola to beat Bradley at home, and the Braves handled the ‘Blers in Peoria with relative ease. Loyola is an experienced squad with several guys who played on their Sweet 16 team last year, and one who played in the Final Four. They’re going to need him and Braden Norris to run the offense, while Chris Knight finds a way to slow down Rienk Mast at the other end. Defensive Player of the Year Lucas Williamson will likely end up guarding MVC first-teamer Terry Roberts, which will be a fascinating matchup to watch. Loyola is one of the best defensive teams in the league, and often it has been their defense that has carried the day for them in crunch time. Can they put the screws on the Braves? We shall see. Loyola will be the favorite for good reason. I like their experience. But Bradley has won two of the last three Arch Madni, and both times they did it starting from the 4-5 game. In fact, these two squads have combined to win each of the last four Arch Madni. It will be absolutely must-see TV for MVC fans.
Game 5: #2 Missouri State (22-9, 13-5) vs. Game 2 Winner – MVC TV: Should Isiaih Mosley have been named player of the year? I thought he would be. It is a debate that is raging on MVC Twitter as I write this. Whether he deserved it or not, I am sure he felt he did. The good news for Mosley, his team and his fans is he can use the snub as motivation for Arch Madness. The Bears will open the night session on Friday against the winner of Friday’s second game. That will most likely be Valpo, who MSU handled with ease in both meetings this year. The Bears led nearly wire-to-wire in a January 15th meeting at the ARC, leading by eight at halftime and pulling away for a 74-57 win. They had little trouble in their second meeting in Springfield, too, ultimately pulling away for an 84-66 win. Evansville, the other possible opponent for MSU, actually gave the Bears more trouble during the year. At JQH in January, the game was tied with nine minutes to go before the Bears pulled away for a 14-point win. On Saturday at the Ford Center the game was tied past the eight-minute mark before MSU pulled away. If MSU is on their game, either possible opponent will struggle to keep up. Mosley and Prim are both first-teamers for a reason, and neither the Beacons nor the Aces have the personnel to slow them down if they’re playing their best. Throw in solid role players in Black, Minnett, Clay and Patterson and MSU should be the favorites in this one no matter who they play. Valpo, obviously, seems to have a better shot to pull the upset than Evansville would. In fact, it was from the 7-seed line that the Beacons made it to the title game in 2020 and one of their victims on the way was Missouri State. Guys like King, Krikke, Taylor and Edwards are talented, and they would be playing with house money at this point. That said, I would be surprised if Valpo won this game. I would definitely be surprised if Evansville won this game. After all, they’ve won two conference games total this year. It seems unlikely they’ll win two in two days. Here’s hoping for an exciting game, although I think this one is the biggest candidate of the day to turn into a blowout.
Game 6: #3 Drake (22-9, 13-5) vs. # 6 Southern Illinois (16-14, 9-9) – MVC TV: Friday can be a long day. Usually by the time the final game rolls around, the crowd is starting to get down to the die hards and the fans of the two teams that are playing. The energy can feel like it has been sucked out of the building and the games themselves can often be duds. However, I believe that it will be worthwhile for the neutrals to stick around for this one. We have two teams playing some of their best ball of the season in a rematch of a season-ending game from Saturday that came down to the final shot. When talking about this game you must start with the announcement of Drake’s annual pre-Arch Madness major injury. This year it was all-defensive team member and four-year starter DJ Wilkins who went down with the Bulldog injury bug. If I were a Drake fan, I would just be extraordinarily frustrated. It has become an absurdly annual “tradition” for the Bulldogs to lose (at least) one key player right before the start of the tournament. It is incredible and, quite frankly, unfair that it is happening yet again. Wilkins is averaging over ten points a game and is a stellar defender. He has started 127 career games for Drake. Still, the Bulldogs have plenty of talent left with Tremell Murphy, Tuker Devries, Garrett Sturtz, Roman Penn, Take Hemphill and Darnell Brodie. All those guys, other than the freshman Devries, were part of Drake’s NCAA at-large team last year and that experience should come in handy in this tournament setting. Drake is also entering the tournament having won five straight following a three-game mini losing streak (that itself followed wins in seven out of eight games). They’re playing good ball. SIU is playing well too. Their four-game winning streak came to an end in Des Moines on Saturday, but they had previously won four straight and five out of six. The Salukis are arguably the league’s best defensive team, and they now have a third legitimate offensive threat (Ben Coupet) to go with the two that they already had (Marcus Domask and Lance Jones). On Saturday, Drake pulled out to a 14-point halftime lead, but the Salukis rallied in the second half. They scored forty points and held Drake without a basket for a 5 minute plus stretch. In the end, Marcus Domask had a three-pointer in the air as time expired that would have won it for SIU, but it missed, and Drake held on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar game on Friday. SIU’s defense will likely be there, the question will be whether Drake can shoot out of it, and whether their also-stellar defense can limit SIU’s newfound offensive ability.
Game 7: Semifinal #1 – CBS Sports Network: A UNI-Loyola rematch would likely be coup for the neutral fans. It has been well documented that the Ramblers destroyed the Panthers by 27 in Chicago, and UNI won the rematch in Cedar Falls in OT to claim the regular season title. A third pairing of the two could be epic and could also be the difference between Loyola getting into the dance and not. Northern Iowa lost at Bradley on a last second layup in the December league openers. They beat the Braves at home with relative ease, 78-65. That could also be a very entertaining semifinal between two teams that have performed very well in the second half of the season. Bradley is no stranger to this spot, having played in (and won) the first semifinal two of the last three seasons. Should the Panthers fail to advance to this game, the Bradley-Loyola winner becomes a huge favorite. Bradley lost at Indiana State early in the season but beat the Trees with relative ease at home later on. They also lost to arch-rival Illinois State on the road before recovering to split with the Redbirds later in the year. A BU-ISU Red semifinal would be intriguing with the extra layer of the rivalry. Loyola swept both ISUs during the season. I would have a hard time seeing the Ramblers, with the experience they have, losing to either Indiana or Illinois State.
Game 8: Semifinal #2 – CBS Sports Network: For this game, really any possible matchup that doesn’t involve Evansville is intriguing. I take that back, seeing a 6-23 Purple Aces team get to this point in the tournament would be intriguing as hell. Missouri State is this game’s most likely participant and they have fared quite well against both their potential opponents. They won close games against Drake both at home and on the road, winning the two games by a combined total of nine points. Their home win against SIU was similar, an 81-76 win. They won more easily in Carbondale, 69-54. A Missouri State-Drake game would see a rematch of last year’s semifinal, and it would be must-see TV for any MVC fan. MSU-SIU would also be a big-time game featuring a big-time offense taking on a big-time defense, both teams led by a couple of stars. Should MSU fail to advance to this game, the SIU-Drake winner becomes the favorite. Drake went a combined 4-0 against Valpo and Evansville, although several of the games were competitive. They escaped with a 60-59 win at the Ford Center, but absolutely blew out the Aces in Des Moines. Both contests between Drake and Valpo were relatively close for most of the game until Drake pulled away late. SIU also went 4-0 against the Beacons and Aces, winning both home games easily while playing tight games on the road.
Game 9: Championship Game- CBS: Obviously it hard to preview a game where there are five possibilities for each team. But if the way this season has gone has been any indication, we are likely to put on a show for the national audience no matter who is playing. I’ll be rooting for whoever wins in the big dance.
See you all tomorrow! GO VALLEY!