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2023 State of the Valley – 75% Of The Way

While I am still currently “more-or-less” on hiatus, I wrote a “State of the Valley” article at the halfway point of the season in which I promised another one at the 75% mark. Since then, UNI’s season has collapsed on itself like a dying star and I’m not really in the mood to do this anymore. And I don’t have to, because I don’t do this for money and am obligated to no one! But last night I put it on my to-do list for today. And dag nabbit if I am not obligated to my to-do list (and a little OCD).


For those who are new or need a reminder, the teams are ranked by how they would be seeded at Arch Madness if the tournament started today. They are not power rankings. Please keep that in mind.


Also another point of clarification, when I look at “Hackman Avg Seed” I am referring to Matt Hackman’s Arch Madness probability grid that factors in expected future performance.


With that out of the way, here we go.



12.) Evansville Purple Aces (1-14, 5-21, NET: 343, KenPom: 346, Hackman Avg Seed: 11.86/12th): Welp, popular opinion said that the Aces locked themselves alone in the cellar after they fell at UIC, 70-61, for their fourteenth MVC defeat in as many tries. Not so fast. UE clawed back last night for a dominant 71-59 win over UNI, securing their first win since before Christmas and keeping themselves within a game of last-place avoidance. The impressive effort saw UE shoot 50% from the floor and force 19 Panther turnovers, as the Aces completely controlled the game from the 10-minute mark in the first half onward. The win put a 12-game losing streak on ice, and keeps UE within striking distance of 11th place with a home game against UIC still on the schedule. It is unlikely they will win one of their other contests, as three of four are against the league’s top half and also three of four are on the road. So they probably need to have UIC lose out as well to keep up their hopes for 11th place. But there is still a chance to salvage something from this season, and that is something for a team that is 5-21 overall. For what it’s worth, Matt Hackman gives them a 14% chance to get out of the cellar.


11.) Illinois-Chicago Flames (2-13, 10-16, NET: 278, KenPom: 277, Hackman Avg Seed: 10.96/11th): The Flames also snapped a long losing streak since we last spoke, winning 70-61 against Evansville to put an end to a 10-game skid. While they went 1-4 over their last five overall, the UIC were competitive at some level in every contest. They had every chance to win a game at Missouri State that they ultimately lost by 4, went to overtime at Illinois State, and made a furious rally at SIU with multiple chances at the end to win or tie but ultimately fell short. Their performance indicates they are likely to strike again before this season is over. They are still in danger of falling to last place with just a one-game lead over Evansville and trip to Ford Center in front of them, but they may be just as likely to jump up and catch Valpo who are two games ahead of them and still must face UIC at the Pavilion (sponsored by Credit Union 1). Hackman has them pretty solidly in 11th (68%), with a 14% chance of falling to 12th, but a 17% chance of moving to 10th. Regardless, the Flames are tougher than their 2-13 record indicates.


10.) Valparaiso Beacons (4-11, 10-16, NET: 284, KenPom: 279, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.84/10th): Continuing a theme amongst these cellar dwellers, the Beacons are also losers of four of their last five. After a stretch of three straight wins to close out the first half of the season, Valpo lost at UNI before winning at home to UE. That was followed by consecutive OT losses at Missouri State and vs. Drake before a blowout loss at Indiana State last night. The Beacons are another team that appear to be better than their record indicates. They’ve gone toe-to-toe with Drake twice, loss at the buzzer to UNI and took Mo State to OT. Although they’ve also had their share of convincing defeats. Their remaining schedule is manageable, with two games against their fellow bottom four-ers remaining and three home games out of five overall. They have the upper hand against Illinois State (who they defeated on the road by 20 points) in a tiebreaker too. Hackman says they have a 52% chance of getting the 10-seed, but their odds of moving up to ninth (32%) are double their odds of falling to 11th (16%). Regardless, they will almost certainly be wearing their darks on Thursday at Arch Madness.


9.) Illinois State Redbirds (5-10, 10-16, NET: 260, KenPom: 269, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.33/9th): The Redbirds have been red-hot by bottom-half Valley standards with TWO….not one but TWO…..wins in their last five games. Two losses to their arch-rivals Bradley sandwich home wins over Southern Illinois and UIC and a loss at Belmont. The first Bradley loss was a heartbreaker for the ‘Birds as they seemingly did everything they could to giveaway a sizable lead both in regulation and in overtime. The win over Southern Illinois shows what ISU is capable of when at their best. They now have wins over Belmont, SIU and Missouri State and have gone toe-to-toe with Bradley. But they’ve also shown what they can be at their worst with a blowout loss at home to Valpo and a loss to UIC. ISU Red have two games against the bottom four remaining, as well as a winnable home game against Murray, so there is more that can be done. But it is starting to look like they may be headed for the tournament’s opening game at noon on Thursday, and a possible St. Louis clash with UNI for the third straight season. Hackman has them as 66% likely to land in the 9-seed with the 10-seed (31%) the next likeliest outcome.


8.) Murray State Racers (8-7, 13-12, NET: 207, KenPom: 219, Hackman Avg Seed: 7.17/7th): The Racers probably had the best two and a half weeks amongst bottom half MVC teams, and that probably says as much about the bottom half as it does about them because they are coming off of two straight shellackings. They went 2-3, but all five game were against top half MVC competition. They opened with a very hard fought, emotional, four-point loss at SIU that ended with a kerfuffle between the players in the handshake line (and again with some fans as they ran into the locker room). From there, they looked to have gotten their groove back with consecutive home wins over Missouri State and Belmont (their other rivals) although both were nail biters. Then momentum swung back the other way again as they lost at Indiana State by 43 (43!) points and followed that with a 24-point home loss to Drake. Murray currently sits in 8th position due to a tiebreaker against UNI (they lost their only meeting of the season in Cedar Falls), however the computers like Murray’s chances to avoid the Arch Madness opener (likely due to their schedule) and give their big fanbase a chance to settle into an evening game. Indeed, the Panthers play five top-half MVC teams to close the season while Murray plays three of their final five against the bottom four (including two at home). Hackman has Murray with a 41% chance at the 8-seed, but a 37% at the 7-seed, and a 17% at the six seed. They still have a 1% chance of getting a bye.


7.) Northern Iowa Panthers (8-7, 12-13, NET: 204, KenPom: 203, Hackman Avg Seed: 7.35/8th): A lot of Valley squads had a rough go of it the last couple weeks, but I doubt any had it worse than UNI. The Panthers opened with a relatively easy home win over Valpo, and at the time they were all alone in third place in the MVC standings. Since then, they have lost four straight games. Losses at Indiana State and Drake can be excused, as both came down to the wire (the Drake loss was in double-OT) against good teams on the road. The loss at home to Bradley wasn’t as great as they were beaten soundly (although not blown out) at home. If that had been it, the narrative would have been that UNI was probably never a title contender but still a talented young team with a bright future. But it wasn’t it, because UNI then crapped out a 12-point loss at Evansville, giving UE their first MVC win in 15 tries. At the end of the day, this is a team that is playing with nine guys, four of which are freshmen and another that is a sophomore walkon. Three of the other four had not averaged more than 8.5 minutes per game in a college basketball season coming into this year. UNI’s two most experienced players have played a total of two games this year. It is quite possible this squad, made up of entirely of guys playing their first real college season (other than Bowen Born), is simply running out of gas. It isn’t going to get any easier either, as UNI plays only teams in the top half of the MVC standings the rest of the way. They have the tiebreaker over Murray, but a much more difficult schedule, and look destined to play in the Arch Madness opener on Thursday afternoon. Hackman has them with a 51% chance to land in the 8-spot, with a 37% shot at the 7-seed. I still feel brighter days are ahead for the Panthers (all but one guy on the roster has at least two years of eligibility remaining, and they have a solid recruiting class coming in). A solid finish to this year would be a vital confidence boost heading into a promising 23-24 and beyond.


6.) Missouri State Bears (9-6, 13-12, NET: 141, KenPom: 156, Hackman Avg Seed: 5.82/6th): As we move into the top half of the league, we finally reach our first team that won more games than it lost since we last spoke. Missouri State went 3-2 and with middling results over that span, reflecting their status as a middling MVC team. They opened with a very close home win over UIC, lost by 3 at Murray, beat Valpo at home in OT, lost by 20 at SIU, and then capped it off with an exciting two-point win over Belmont (that was cinched with an alley-oop dunk with ten seconds to go). The middling run sums up the Bears’ season thus far. Their remaining schedule is middling as well, with only one of their last five games against bottom-four MVC teams (this Saturday’s tilt at Evansville), but three with the teams sitting with them in the middle in Murray, UNI and Indy State (only the latter on the road) to go along with a difficult trip to Bradley. It all adds up to a team that should be very much in the middle when the dust settles. A good run could still give them a shot at a bye (Hackman gives them a 13% chance at the top four), but they will most likely fall into 5th (19%), 6th (40%) or 7th (21%) when the season is over and Arch Madness begins. This is a team that beat Belmont, swept Drake and also beat Indiana State. They are 4-4 against teams that are ahead of them in the standings. They can beat good teams at Arch Madness. But are they capable of four wins in four days?


5.) Indiana State Sycamores (10-5, 17-9, NET: 98, KenPom: 101, Hackman Avg Seed: 4.20/5th): Guess what I learned? Somehow, Indiana State STILL hasn’t played Belmont this year. And they won’t until the second to last game of the season. Since Indiana State and Belmont are tied, and since that tie determines who would currently get a bye and who wouldn’t, I really had to dig down and try and figure out who would win the tiebreaker for this one. Thanks to this Tweet, I am fairly certain that it would be Belmont because they are 2-2 against Drake, SIU and Bradley while Indiana State is 2-3. And all that work will become irrelevant when those two finally play each other. But I did it for you, dear reader, because I care. And also because I wasn’t going to just…..like…..guess. The Trees moved up from the eight seed in the last State of the Valley to the cusp of a bye in this one due to their current run of four consecutive wins. After a heartbreaking two-point loss at the buzzer to Drake, which gave them their fifth consecutive loss after a 6-0 start, ISU Blue got back on the horse. They tallied wins over UNI, @ Evansville, Murray and Valpo. That isn’t exactly a murders row, but the Trees have shown they can consistently beat teams in the bottom half of the standings. That will come in handy as they battle for a bye, and possibly a league title, as they play UNI, UIC and Illinois State over their next three before finishing with games at Belmont and vs. Mo State. They might be the only squad that doesn’t have to play anyone in the current top three to end the year. I would define that schedule as “manageable”. They opened with six straight wins, followed by five losses, then four wins. If that trend continues, they will lose their next three, then win their last two, before losing at Arch Madness. That is probably not what they want to do though, and the computers don’t think they will. Hackman has their most likely seed as 5, but they have a 55% chance to get a bye and a 2% shot at the 1-seed. I think they’ll take those odds at this point.


4.) Belmont Bruins (10-5, 17-9, NET: 127, KenPom: 130, Hackman Avg Seed: 4.16/4th): Of the three newbies, Belmont is clearly having the best time. And that isn’t too surprising since they have the best combination of talent and experience, at least on paper, of the bunch. They struggled somewhat to a 2-3 mark since the last write-up. However, I don’t think the struggle is indicative of Belmont’s level of play. It is more indicative of bad luck. They opened with a win over Evansville and a blowout loss at home to Drake. That wasn’t good (especially since the ‘Dogs were without Tucker DeVries), but it is one of only a couple truly bad performances by Belmont in league play this year. The next game was a one-point loss at Murray that the Bruins had every chance to win. It was followed by a 15-point home win over Illinois State, and a two point loss at Missouri State in which Belmont made two field goals over the final eight minutes and lost on an alley-oop in the final ten seconds. That’s rough. But it is all still right there in front of them. Belmont has a very manageable schedule the rest of the way including very winnable home games with UIC and Evansville, as well as a pair of manageable contests vs. Indiana State and at UNI. They have a realistic chance to win all four of those games and if they do, they will likely get a bye and perhaps even be in the running for the league title. If they win all four of those and steal a win at Drake as well, I’d bet they will win (at least a share) of the title. Hackman has a 54% chance of them getting a bye and a 4% chance at the top seed. Plenty to play for down the stretch for the kids from Nashville.


3.) Bradley Braves (11-4, 18-8, NET: 71, KenPom: 86, Hackman Avg Seed: 2.18/1st): Hackman has the Braves as the most likely #1 seed at Arch Madness and the best projected average seed, but for now they come in third due to their 1-2 record against Indiana State and Belmont (relative to SIU and Drake’s 2-1 mark). It ultimately matters not, because BU is rolling and they will play both ‘Dogs down the stretch. When we last spoke, BU was coming off a tough stretch where they had lost two out of three. That is not the case anymore. Bradley has reeled off five straight Ws including a double-digit win over Southern Illinois and an easy road win over UNI. And best of all for the Braves, those were sandwiched between two Ws over their rival Redbirds (that were both midweek for some reason…..c’mon MVC schedulers WTF are you doing!). BU opened with a wild comeback against Illinois State that the Redbirds refused to win, and seemingly just got better as the last two weeks went on. They have not been seriously challenged since that game. The closest they game to losing was when they were tied with SIU with five minutes to go but held them without another field goal until a garbage basket at the buzzer, outscoring the Salukis 14-2 over that span. The Braves have a moderately challenging schedule still in front of them, and the biggest challenge will probably be to not look past home games with Murray and Missouri State coming up this week. Those games precede showdowns at SIU and vs Drake that loom on the horizon. If they can take care of business this week, we will have some must-see-TV on the 19th and 26th. Bradley has the strongest computer profile in the Valley along with Drake. They have put themselves in the NIT conversation, but they would probably have to finish so strong to realistically get there that they’d probably win the regular season title (and automatic NIT bid) anyway. Regardless, you know that the Braves are not thinking NIT. Hackman says they have the best chance to finish with the 1-seed at 42%, and are 94% likely to get a bye.


2.) Drake Bulldogs (11-4, 20-6, NET: 79, KenPom: 83, Hackman Avg. Seed: 2.32/2nd): So I really had to dig deep and even make an assumption on something that was not clear, but I am pretty sure if the season ended today Drake would be the 2-seed behind SIU based on either their loss to the Salukis or the fact that SIU has fared better against Missouri State. I know that second one sounds stupid, and it is, but that is the world we live in with this topsy turvy Valley. Anyway, the Bulldogs have to be feeling pretty good right now. After a bummer of a start to the MVC season, Drake has won six games in a row and nine out of ten overall to move into a tie for first place in the league. They’ve won all five since the last report, although three of those Ws were real bangers. They beat Indiana State on a buzzer beater, topped UNI in double-OT, and won at Valpo….also in double-OT. Throw in a couple blowouts at Belmont (without Tucker) and at Murray, and I am starting to wonder if maybe Drake is better away from the Knapp Center. Aren’t we all? Great news Bulldog fans, the MVC Tournament will not be played at the Knapp so this might just be the year you get over the hump and finish the job. The computers seem to like Drake as much as anyone in the league (along with Bradley) and I could see the Bulldogs getting an NIT look with a strong finish (although the would likely be league champs in that scenario anyway). Drake is 1-0 against quad 1, 2-3 against quad 2, and has no glaringly bad losses (Bradley has only one quad 1 or 2 win in seven chances). But like the Braves, Drake is not thinking about the NIT. They’re thinking about a pair of MVC championships. They will be challenged down the stretch with home games against SIU and Belmont and trips to Cedar Falls and Peoria remaining on the schedule. They control their own destiny though, and that is all you can ask at this time of year. Hackman certainly thinks they’ll finish at or near the top, with a 33% shot at the top seed, a 30% chance at #2, 92% chance they’ll at least end up with a bye. The fun starts immediately with a home contest against SIU tomorrow.


1.) Southern Illinois Salukis (11-4, 19-7, NET: 113, KenPom: 125, Hackman Avg. Seed: 2.81/3rd): SIU had a rougher 2.5 weeks than their compatriots at the top of the standings, going 3-2 to allow Drake and Bradley to close the gap. SIU won a contentious one over new-ish rivals Murray State at home, 68-64, in a game that ended in a postgame handshake kerfuffle. They then hit the road and had a rough go, losing at Illinois State and Bradley before righting the ship at home against Missouri State and UIC (although the latter game was not without drama). I think it is fair to say that of the three teams tied for first, SIU is playing the worst basketball at this juncture. Not that they’ve been bad, but they have been worse than Drake and Bradley. The computers like SIU the least of the three teams that are tied for first, as they sit in the triple digits in NET and KenPom, and Hackman’s formula gives the Salukis the worst chance to end up at the top. We will know a lot more about their chances as early as tomorrow, as they head to Des Moines for a crucial showdown with Drake. That is followed by a trip to Valpo and a crucial home game against Bradley. If they can get through that stretch still in first, they’ll be in good shape as they finish at home against UNI and at UIC. My formative Valley years were the late 90s into the 2000s, and SIU was the toughest team in the league. Those days have been long gone for over a decade, but Bryan Mullins is attempting to drag that era…..kicking and screaming…..back to the forefront. SIU fans have been waiting for it for awhile. Has their time come? Hackman gives them a 19% chance at the top seed, and an 89% chance at a bye. We’ll find out soon enough.


As I look at the top squads on this list, I notice some interesting storylines. For SIU, it is a return to the long-lost glory days of the mid-aughts and an escape from the mediocrity of the last decade and a half. For Drake, it is finally getting over the hump at Arch Madness and winning the big one (and staying healthy). For Bradley, a squad that has had Arch Madness success recently but hasn’t really sniffed a regular season title in awhile, it is the opposite of Drake. They want to finish the long grind on top and take the regular season crown (and Arch Madness too). The beauty of the situation is that it is going to get decided on the court. All three teams that are tied for first play each other again this season. And there are two more squads right on their heels! It should be a fascinating final two and a half weeks of the regular season followed by a fascinating tournament in St. Louis.



If The Tournament Started Today….


Thursday, March 2nd (All Games on MVC Regional Networks and ESPN+)

o Game 1 (Noon): #8 Murray State (8-7, 13-12) vs. #9 Illinois State (5-10, 10-16)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Indiana State (10-5, 17-9) vs. #12 Evansville (1-14, 5-21)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Northern Iowa (8-7, 12-13) vs. #10 Valparaiso (4-11, 10-16)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Missouri State (9-6, 13-12) vs. #11 UIC (2-13, 10-16)


Friday, March 3rd (All Games on MVC Regional Networks and ESPN+)

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Southern Illinois (11-4, 19-7) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Belmont (10-5, 17-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Drake (11-4, 20-6) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Bradley (11-4, 18-8) vs. Game 4 Winner


Saturday, March 4th (Both Games on CBS Sports Network)

o Game 9 (2:30pm): Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

o Game 10 (5pm): Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner


Sunday, March 5th (CBS)

o Championship Game (1pm)



Most Likely Scenario According to Hackman….


Thursday, March 2nd (All Games on MVC Regional Networks and ESPN+)

o Game 1 (Noon): #8 Northern Iowa (8-7, 12-13) vs. #9 Illinois State (5-10, 10-16)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Indiana State (10-5, 17-9) vs. #12 Evansville (1-14, 5-21)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Murray State (8-7, 13-12) vs. #10 Valparaiso (4-11, 10-16)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Missouri State (9-6, 13-12) vs. #11 UIC (2-13, 10-16)


Friday, March 3rd (All Games on MVC Regional Networks and ESPN+)

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Bradley (11-4, 18-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Belmont (10-5, 17-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Drake (11-4, 20-6) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Southern Illinois (11-4, 19-7) vs. Game 4 Winner


Saturday, March 4th (Both Games on CBS Sports Network)

o Game 9 (2:30pm): Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

o Game 10 (5pm): Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner


Sunday, March 5th (CBS)

o Championship Game (1pm)


That is it. I’ll see you again at the 90% mark. Go us.

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