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  • MVC Beat

2023 State of the Valley – 95% Of The Way

One Week and one round of games until Arch Madness. Hooray! We’ve only had one round of games in the three days since I last checked in so there isn’t as much to say. But I did want to check in once before the Sunday slate to sum up the current tourney picture for you. Obviously, we have the Bradley/Drake game to sort out the conference champ (which will now be shown on ESPN2). But we also have some significant seeding questions to answer including who will get the other two byes, and which teams will play which on Thursday. So, let’s hop right in.


For your reference, the “Hackman Average Seed” I refer to is the excellent work of Matt Hackman who uses KenPom to weight the results and predict how the tournament will look throughout the season. I also regularly reference this Tweet where he lays out how many of the possible 64 remaining possible outcomes to the 12 remaining games results in which seeds for which teams. I’d also add that Matt does this work for a few other conferences too, so take a look at his Twitter. Interesting stuff!


As always, friendly reminder that these are not power rankings. They are rated by the seed they would have at Arch Madness if the season ended today.


12.) Evansville Purple Aces (1-18, 5-25, NET: 347, KenPom: 349, Hackman Avg Seed: 12/12th): We have our first seed clinching! The Aces were unable to defend their home court against UIC in an 82-76 loss that locked them into another outright last place finish and the 12-seed at Arch Madness. This is the fourth time in five seasons that Evansville has finished at the bottom of the league. They now have 16 losses in 17 contests, the exception being their win against UNI a couple weeks ago. I doubt we’ll see a rematch there. If UE gets the chance to play UNI again some SHIT HAPPENED at Arch Madness. Evansville will wrap up the regular season at Illinois State, where they will try to snag their first road win since the season opener at Miami Ohio. They’ll open (and likely close) their Arch Madness campaign at 2:30pm on Thursday against Indiana State, Belmont or SIU.


11.) Illinois-Chicago Flames (4-15, 12-18, NET: 280, KenPom: 292, Hackman Avg Seed: 10.78/11th): In 2014, Loyola moved from the Horizon League to the MVC and finished in last their first season. In 2018, Valpo moved from the Horizon League to the MVC and finished in last their first season. In 2023, UIC moved from the Horizon League to the MVC and finished…..NOT LAST….their first season. This ascension into 11th place (ironically one place worse than 2014 Loyola and 2018 Valpo) was made possible by consecutive wins over Valpo on Sunday and now Evansville on Wednesday. If the Flames can manage to knock off Southern Illinois on Sunday….well….that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before. What’s more, while UIC is probably looking at an 11-seed for the tournament there are scenarios where a win moves them up to 10th, and that would mean they wouldn’t need to face Drake or Bradley in the quarterfinals if they won their first game. UIC is just one game behind both ISU Red and Valpo, and split with both during the year. In the case of a 3-way tie for 9th (UIC wins, VU and IlSU lose), UIC ends up 10th (since Valpo swept the ‘Birds). A two-way tie with Illinois State would go to the ‘Birds because ISU has a wins over SIU and Belmont. A tie with Valpo would go to UIC due to the win they would have to get over SIU to get to that point. For any of that to matter, though, UIC would have to upset SIU which seems like a longshot. Regardless, the Flames will start their Arch Madness on Thursday night against either Missouri State or Murray State.


10.) Illinois State Redbirds (5-14, 10-20, NET: 276, KenPom: 280, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.51/9th): ISU Red has not done themselves any favors lately with six straight losses. To be fair to them, though, the schedule hasn’t been easy with only one of the six losses coming against a fellow bottom four-er (and it was on the road). The Redbirds were competitive at Valpo and at home against Murray State, while getting blown out by double digits against four teams in the top five of the standings. And that is about what you’d expect from a team in their position. They were little more than a speed bump for Drake in Des Moines on Wednesday. But they have a chance to finish on a high note hosting Evansville Sunday. IlSU can still be the 9th, 10th or 11th seed, but a win over Evansville guarantees they avoid 11th. They would jump to 9th with a win over Evansville and a Valpo loss at Murray State. They would fall to 11th with a loss to Evansville, a Valpo loss to Murray, and a UIC win against SIU which would create a three-way tie for 9th (and they’d lose the tiebreaker due to a sweep at the hands of Valpo). The most likely scenario, according to Hackman, is the 9-seed which would put them in the tournament opener Thursday afternoon against UNI. If they finish with the 10-seed they’d play the first game on Saturday night against Murray State, UNI or possibly Missouri State. If they finish 11th they’d play the last game Thursday against either Murray State or Missouri State.


9.) Valparaiso Beacons (5-14, 11-19, NET: 278, KenPom: 275, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.71/10th): Valpo has been nothing if not spunky. While they did not seriously threaten Bradley for most of the game on Wednesday, and they’ve have lost 6 of 7 overall, they have put some scares into some really good teams. They also have Ben Krikke who has scored 17, 34, 24, 24, 22, 27, 19, 30, and 22 over his last nine outings. So, if you play the Beacons at Arch Madness, you’ll probably want to watch out for that guy. Valpo currently has the 9-seed due to a tiebreaker over ISU Red (since they swept them) and would clinch the 9-seed with a win at Murray State. That would put them in the tournament’s opening game against either UNI or Murray State. They’d also be the 9-seed with a loss and an Illinois State loss to Evansville as they would win any tiebreak that involved the Redbirds. In that scenario they’d play UNI for sure. If they lose and Illinois State beats Evansville, they’d fall to 10th if UIC also loses (and they’d play Murray State or Missouri State). They would fall all the way to 11th if they lost, Illinois State won, and UIC beat SIU, as the Flames would win the two-way tiebreaker. They’d play Murray or Missouri State in that scenario too. Bottom line for the Beacons: Win and you’re playing the opening game, lose and you might still play the opening game but more likely (as you’d expect Illinois State to beat Evansville) you’d be playing Thursday night.


8.) Northern Iowa Panthers (9-10, 13-16, NET: 217, KenPom: 219, Hackman Avg Seed: 7.85/8th): The Panthers took a shellacking at the hands of SIU in Carbondale for their seventh loss in eight outings. The main concern for UNI, though, was that Bowen Born exited the game after six minutes and did not return. It was said that his exit was precautionary and I believe it, but it is clear that the ‘Cats’ leading scorer is not 100%. And if Bowen Born is unable to contribute at a high level at Arch Madness, it is going to be very tough for UNI to avoid a one-and-done. The Panthers’ three-point defense continues to be a problem as well, as SIU shot 17-29 from long range. This is the third time in their last six games UNI’s opponent has made at least 48% of their three point tries. UNI hosts Belmont on CBSSN on Sunday. If the Panthers win and Murray State loses at home to Valpo, UNI will be the 7-seed and play at 6pm on Thursday. Anything short of that (Panthers lose OR Murray State wins), they’ll be the 8-seed and playing in the opening game. Either way, they are guaranteed to play Illinois State or Valpo in their first game.


7.) Murray State Racers (10-9, 15-14, NET: 218, KenPom: 228, Hackman Avg Seed: 6.83/7th): The Racers took it on the chin a bit at Missouri State on Tuesday, putting a halt to a run of two wins in a row. It was the fourth time in the last six games that MSU has gotten beaten by at least 15 points. The good news is that the other two games in that stretch were wins, as were the two before it, but it is hard to deny that Murray has struggled a bit of late. They’ll have a chance to regain some of their mojo with a victory over Valpo at home on Sunday. That win would ensure the Racers won’t have to play in the tournament opener on Thursday as the 8-seed, and instead would play at night as either the 6 or 7 seed. They’d be the six seed with a win over Valpo, a Missouri State loss to Indiana State, AND a Bradley win over Drake. They’d be the 7-seed if they win and either of those other two things does not happen, or with a loss and a UNI loss. They’d be the 8-seed with a loss and a UNI win. They are most likely to play Valpo or Illinois State at Arch Madness, but there is also an outside chance they’d play UIC.


6.) Missouri State Bears (11-8, 15-14, NET: 155, KenPom: 167, Hackman Avg Seed: 6.32/6th): The Bears handled Murray State at home in a nice recovery from their loss to UNI over the weekend. MSU was in control for just about the entire 40 minutes, and looked a lot like the team I think their fans hoped they would be more consistently. It is another classic MSU season where the team is……fine…..but just can’t seem to put it completely together enough to really make an impact. But that can’t be terribly surprising the season after you lose guys like Isiaih Mosley and Gaige Prim. Building a team with almost exclusively transfers is a dice roll that the talent will gel and guys will find their roles and settle in in their new environment. A season of mixed results was always a strong possibility. The Bears win over Murray, coupled with UNI’s loss at SIU, means that Missouri State is guaranteed to play their Arch Madness opener Thursday night as either the 6 or 7 seed. They’ll be sixth with a win at Indiana State OR a Murray State loss against Valpo OR a Drake win over Bradley. If none of those things comes to pass (namely the Bears lose, Murray wins and Bradley beats Drake) they’d fall to seventh. Either way, they’ll open their tournament on Thursday night against UIC (most likely), Valpo or Illinois State.


5.) Indiana State Sycamores (13-6, 20-10, NET: 93, KenPom: 92, Hackman Avg Seed: 4.41/5th): Oof. Apologies to Sycamore fans because that game was brutal. Indiana State had a bye this close to being wrapped up before it slipped through their fingers in the final moments of an 89-88 loss at Belmont. The Trees had a 17-point halftime lead that had completely evaporated just six-and-a-half minutes into the second half. They regrouped, though, and built their advantage back up to 11 with 5:52 to go, still led by 9 with three minutes to go, and had a 5-point lead with 90 seconds remaining. In the waning moments Trent Gibson missed the front end of a one-and-one for ISU, and Ben Sheppard converted two free throws for Belmont giving the Bruins the 1-point win. Indiana State is now in a 3-way-tie for third place and on the outside looking in when it comes to a bye at Arch Madness. They’re going to need some help to avoid Thursday. If the Trees lose at home against Missouri State on Sunday, they’ll be locked into that 5-seed no matter what. If they win, they’ll need either SIU to lose at UIC, or Belmont to lose at UNI to claim a top four spot. If they win and both SIU and Belmont lose, they’d move all the way to #3. The Trees just must take care of business at home and hope for some help from the Flames or Panthers. If they don’t get it (or they lose), they’ll open the tournament at 2:30pm on Thursday against Evansville as the 5-seed. If they win and get some help, they’ll be the 4-seed and open the tournament at 2:30pm on Friday against Belmont, SIU or Evansville. If they win and get all the help, they’ll be the 3-seed and they won’t play their first game until 8:30pm on Friday against Missouri State, Murray State, UIC, Illinois State or Valpo.


4.) Belmont Bruins (13-6, 29-10, NET: 119, KenPom: 127, Hackman Avg Seed: 4.19/4th): Now we get the flip side of the shenanigans that occurred in Nashville on Wednesday. From a Belmont perspective it wasn’t a choke or a letdown, but a valiant comeback and an instant classic. Had the Bruins lost to Indiana State, they would be locked into the #5 seed right now. Instead, they overcame a 17-point halftime deficit that was still sitting at double-digits late in the 2nd half and won 89-88 on a pair of Ben Sheppard free throws. Belmont is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting a bye, and they control their own destiny. There are a lot of possible scenarios but the simplest one is this. If the Bruins win at UNI on Sunday, they’re getting a bye. If they lose, they would still get a bye if Indiana State also loses to Missouri State. If the Panthers and Sycamores both prevail, the Bruins would be the 5-seed and open the tournament at 2:30pm Thursday against Evansville. If Belmont wins and SIU loses at UIC, the Bruins would jump the Salukis into the third seed and open the tournament at 8:30pm Friday against most likely Missouri State (but also possibly Murray State, UIC, Valpo, or Illinois State). Any other combo puts the Bruins at the 4-seed, which is their most likely destination. That would mean they would open the tournament at 2:30pm on Friday against either Indiana State or Evansville.


3.) Southern Illinois Salukis (13-6, 21-8, NET: 117, KenPom: 129, Hackman Avg. Seed: 3.4/3rd): The Salukis recovered nicely from their heartbreaker against Bradley with an 86-63 shellacking of Northern Iowa on Wednesday. The win avenged SIU’s loss to the Panthers in Cedar Falls in January and put the Salukis in position to snag the 3-seed at Arch Madness. It is pretty simple for SIU. Win at 11th-place UIC and you’ll be #3. Never mind that it was just a few weeks ago that the Flames took SIU to the brink in Carbondale. If SIU can take care of business they can lock in a spot in the late game on Friday, 8:30pm, against Missouri State (most likely), UIC or Murray State. If they lose, it is time to start scoreboard watching. If they lose and one of Belmont or Indiana State win (while the other loses), they’ll be the 4-seed and open on Friday afternoon at 2:30pm against Belmont, Indiana State or Evansville. The only way they fall into 5th and into a Thursday game is if they lose and Indiana State and Belmont both win, which would mean they’d open the tournament on Thursday at 2:30pm against Evansville. If all three lose, SIU moves back into the 3-seed (but could now play Illinois State or Valpo along with UIC or Missouri State). In all, that is a very complicated way of saying that the Salukis should just beat UIC.


2.) Bradley Braves (15-4, 22-8, NET: 61, KenPom: 80, Hackman Avg Seed: 1.39/1st): If you’re reading this, you know the deal. It will be Bradley vs. Drake in Peoria on Sunday for all the regular season marbles. For Bradley, it would be the first regular season MVC title since…..that can’t be right…..1996? Seriously? How? Also, their second most recent championship was in 1988 when Hersey goddam Hawkins was playing for them. As I looked way back to find this information, I realized this matchup is full of Valley history. Bradley and Drake are the two longest tenured MVC schools, which is kind of cool. Drake has been in the league pretty much the whole time since it was founded in 1907. They left in 1952 (along with….who else….Bradley) due to the league’s failure to address the assault of black football star Johnny Bright by Oklahoma A&M (Oklahoma State) players, before rejoining in 1956 (Bradley rejoined in 1955). Bradley has been in the league (other than the 1952-55 gap) since 1948. The next longest tenured school is SIU, who joined 27 years later in 1975. My personal history lesson aside, the Braves come in having won nine in a row and have seen their NET ranking jump to 61 in the process. It is still not enough to even get a mention on the ESPN bubble watch, but a win would presumably give them a bit of a boost resume wise. The Braves are 0-5 against Quad 1 teams. But they are 2-1 against Quad 2 and would be 3-1 with a win tomorrow. It is still an extreme outside chance, but they could get themselves in the conversation for an at-large at least. A win would, at minimum, sew up the automatic NIT bid should they require it. As of now they’d probably get into the NIT on their own depending on how many automatic bids were used. But it wouldn’t be a lock. As for the game itself, it should be a doozy between two teams playing at a very high level, but the advantage lies with the Braves since they are playing at home. Obviously, a win gets them the 1-seed where they would open Arch Madness at noon on Friday, a loss gives them the 2-seed where they would open Arch Madness at 6pm on Friday. Their opponent could be anyone in the Valley except Southern Illinois, Belmont, Indiana State or Evansville.


1.) Drake Bulldogs (15-4, 24-6, NET: 62, KenPom: 77, Hackman Avg. Seed: 1.61/2nd): If you are somehow reading this right now and don’t already know about the big game on Sunday, I guess I’ll tell you. Drake is playing Bradley in Peoria, and the winner will be the regular season Missouri Valley Conference Champion. This will be the second time in a row the outright Valley title has come down to one final game…….almost like they plan it that way. Last year’s game between Northern Iowa and Loyola went to overtime, and we should be so lucky if we get the same result this year. Drake is gunning for their first MVC title since 2019, and their first outright title since 2008. While their drought isn’t as long as Bradley’s, they’ve had an equally sparse last few decades when it comes to regular season titles. Before 2008, you need to go all the way back to 1971 for Drake’s most recent regular season league title, and a year before that for their most recent outright title. That season they beat out Valley stalwarts Cincinnati, North Texas, Louisville and Memphis among others. In fact, the only other current MVC team that was in the league at that time was…..Bradley! I tell you there is symmetry all around in this matchup. The season before that 1970 season, Drake went to the Final Four where they lost a close one to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins (then blew out North Carolina for third place). That all took place about six months before Abbey Road was released. I digressed hard there, but it was a lot more fun than rehashing everything I said already in the Bradley blurb. Drake is one spot behind Bradley in the NET at 62, and is not mentioned on Bubble Watch right now either. A win over Bradley might make people notice, as they’d be in the 50s in NET, 2-0 against quad 1, and 4-3 against the top 2 quads, with no losses in quad 4. But they are a very outside shot for an at-large. Also, winning the league would give them an automatic NIT bid should they need it, otherwise they are probably on the bubble (but I would say leaning towards “in”) for the NIT right now. To win the title, Drake is going to have to beat Bradley on the road. However, when these two met in Des Moines the ‘Dogs won by 25. Drake comes in with a 10-game winning streak (and 13/14 wins overall). Should be a hell of a battle. A win gets them the 1-seed, and a noon Friday Arch Madness tip. A loss puts them at the 2-seed and gets them a 6pm Friday Arch Madness tip. They could play anyone except SIU, Belmont, ISU Blue or Evansville in their St. Louis opener.



If The Tournament Started Today….


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

o Game 1 (Noon): #8 Northern Iowa (9-10, 13-16) vs. #9 Valparaiso (5-14, 11-19)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Indiana State (13-6, 20-10) vs. #12 Evansville (1-18, 5-25)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Murray State (10-9, 15-14) vs. #10 Illinois State (5-14, 10-20)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Missouri State (11-8, 15-14) vs. #11 UIC (4-15, 12-18)


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

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Drake (15-4, 24-6) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Belmont (13-6, 20-10) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Bradley (15-4, 22-8) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Southern Illinois (13-6, 21-9) 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 (9-10, 13-16) vs. #9 Illinois State (5-14, 10-20)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Indiana State (13-6, 20-10) vs. #12 Evansville (1-18, 5-25)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Murray State (10-9, 15-14) vs. #10 Valparaiso (5-14, 11-19)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Missouri State (11-8, 15-14) vs. #11 UIC (4-15, 12-18)


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

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Bradley (15-4, 22-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Belmont (13-6, 20-10) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Drake (15-4, 24-6) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Southern Illinois (13-6, 21-9) 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)


Women’s Update: At the time of this writing, some Saturday games are done, and some are not. The title race remains close, but Illinois State remains in the driver’s seat at 14-3 with their last three games against teams in the bottom third of the league. Belmont is also 14-3 after a huge win over UNI. They play at home against Drake this afternoon. If they can get past that one, they have a manageable final two games. If Belmont beats Drake, you’re probably looking at a share of the league title between Belmont and Illinois State. Illinois State won the lone meeting between the two teams and would be the 1-seed in the tournament. UNI and Missouri State are both a half game behind that pair, and the two play each other in Cedar Falls on the last day of the season. Missouri State also still plays Drake, who is two games back of the leaders at 12-5 and is the only other school in contention for a bye at the conference tournament.


That’s it. See you in St. Louis!

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