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2024 State of the Valley – 3/4ths Mark

We have reached the three-quarter point of the MVC season which means it is time for my next “State of the Valley”.  This write-up will be a bit shorter and will mostly cover what has happened with each team since I did my last writing at the season’s midway point.  Since we last spoke, the Valley has moved up a spot from 10th to 9th in average NET ranking, making this statistically one of the best MVC seasons in some time.  The league finished 11th in 2020, 2021 and 2022, and fell to a rough 15th last season.  This season’s improvement shows that the 15th ranking was more the exception, not the rule.  The best part is, the league we passed to move into 9th was the American, home of the Wichita State Shockers.  Keep fighting the good fight, guys.

 

While the league is doing well overall, it remains to be seen whether that will translate into multiple bids in March.  Indiana State is the most likely MVC squad to claim an at-large spot, and they were cruising right along until Tuesday when they took their first bad loss of the season at home to Illinois State.  That is a Q4 loss and a backbreaker.  The #TwoBidValley dream remains alive, I believe, but Indiana State just used up pretty much all their room for error in that loss.  They may need to run the table in the regular season from here on out.

 

As I said before, life has prevented me from updating this blog like I used to, but I still intend to do my “State of the Valley” posts.  I have been writing them for my friends at the 50%, 75%, 90%, 95% and 100% points of the Valley season for years, well before this blog was founded.  I decided that I might as well let others see them too if they are interested.  So here is my take at where we stand at the 75% mark of the season.  Friendly reminder that these are not power rankings.  Instead, it shows where each team would be seeded at Arch Madness if the tournament started today.  When I refer to a team’s “Hackman Projected Seed”, I am referring to their average projected Arch Madness seed based on the latest projections by the venerable Matt Hackman.  The computed average is listed first, followed by where that ranks them in the league out of twelve next. 

 

With that said, let’s get it started.  As usual, I will start at the bottom and work my way up.

 

12.) Valparaiso Beacons (2-13, 6-20, NET: 296, Hackman Projected Seed: 11.97-12th): I think it is fair to say that the 23-24 Valpo Beacon men’s basketball team is bad.  In this time of turmoil, when our country can’t seemingly come to a consensus on anything, I think we can all agree on that.  Their prospects didn’t get any better since the last SOTV either.  In fact, they got worse.  They fell from 11th place into the basement after losing all five games, and it seems very likely that is where they will stay.  Hackman gives them a remarkable 97% chance at being the 12-seed in St. Louis.  The Beacons showed some signs of life in mid-January, but recently it has gotten a bit ugly.  They played close games with the likes of Bradley and SIU, and won two of three at one point (at ISU Red and vs. UIC with a 3-point loss at Evansville in the middle).  Since a one-point home loss to Evansville on February 3rd, though, Valpo has suffered a 40-point loss at Indiana State, an 18-point loss at home to Belmont (they trailed by 27 points at halftime), and a 19-point home loss to a reeling Northern Iowa team missing their best player.  The Beacons have now lost seven straight, and 18 of 20 overall.  All that said, none of this is surprising.  Valpo was picked last in the preseason after Roger Powell was hired as the coach in April, leaving him precious little time to rebuild a roster in time for the season.  The bulk of the recruiting season had passed, and his options were limited.  Of his eight guys getting at least 15 or more minutes a game, four are freshmen, two are sophomore transfers with limited experience, and another is a JUCO transfer playing his first season in DI.  Only junior Darius DeAveiro has substantial DI experience in their regular rotation.  Judging by the crowd Wednesday night, Valpo does not have a very engaged fanbase right now (no surprise for a 6-20 team).  But the Beacons are playing with house money.  The clock doesn’t really start for Coach Powell until next season.  Anything they do this year is in preparation for a brighter future, and anything they accomplish is gravy.      

  

11.) UIC Flames (3-12, 10-16, NET: 177, Hackman Projected Seed: 10.95-11th):  I don’t think anyone other than coach Luke Yaklich would argue the Flames are a good basketball team this year.  But I am going to argue that they have become a threat.  They aren’t a threat to win the league or win Arch Madness.  They aren’t even really a threat to finish anywhere above 11th.  But on any given day, UIC has shown lately that they can be a nuisance.  Since my last article, Chicago’s MVC TeamTM has won twice (at Illinois State and at home against UNI) and put a hard scare into Southern Illinois.  The wins moved UIC out of the cellar and into 11th place.  They also snapped an eight-game Flames losing streak.  It should also be pointed out that UIC got blown out by Evansville and Bradley in the same time period.  They are still not world beaters.  But we’ve started to see a pulse.  The same pulse that saw them finish 7-4 in the nonconference with a few noteworthy wins.  Colorado State transfer Isaiah Rivera continues to be the Flames’ top scorer and Toby Okani their top rebounder.  But it was sophomore CJ Jones who scored 24 against UNI.  He has scored double-figures in nine of UIC’s last ten games.  Another UIC veteran, Flip Skobalj, was 5-5 from deep in scoring 21 points in the UNI win.  Those two look to be building blocks for the future.  As for now, UIC is still a mediocre team.  But, unlike Valpo, they are starting to look like a team that could win a game at Arch Madness if the chips fall the right way.  If they do, they’ll likely do it as the 11-seed.  Hackman gives them a 91% chance that is where they will land.     

 

10.) Evansville Purple Aces (6-9, 15-11, NET: 175, Hackman Projected Seed: 9.35-10th): If you haven’t been paying attention to Evansville, and you can be forgiven if you haven’t, I’ve got news for you.  The Aces are kinda on a roll.  Since my last writing, UE won three of five games which included the final three games of a four-game winning streak.  They finished the first half with a home win over Illinois State, then blew out UIC at home, won at Valpo and (in one of the surprises of the year so far) knocked off the Bradley Braves at home.  They have lost their last two but have even acquitted themselves decently in those performances.  It took a brutal turn of events (two missed free throws by 74% free throw shooter Ben Humrichous followed by a buzzer beating three) to lose at Murray State.  Then it took another late dagger three for Drake to knock off the Aces in Evansville.  Evansville is a dangerous team right now.  All the middle-seeded teams wont want to see at the Evansville in the first round at Arch Madness.  This is arguably the best a UE team has looked since 2016 when they made their run to the league championship game.  Evansville fans had a lot of faith in David Ragland when he was hired last year, and it is looking like it is starting to pay off.  The centerpiece, however, seems to be Ben Humrichous.  The NAIA transfer is the Aces’ leading scorer at 15.1 PPG and the team is 14-4 with him in the lineup (and 1-7 without).  UE is locked in what is currently a three-way race for 8th, 9th and 10th with Illinois State and Missouri State.  They currently sit in tenth due to their sweep at the hands of MSU.  They’ll play a part in the title race with a home game against Indiana State on the schedule, and they’ll have their say in who gets the last bye with games against SIU and at Belmont too.  But their biggest remaining game from their standpoint may be this Sunday’s trip to Illinois State.  Hackman likes them as the #9 or #10 seed, giving them an 81% chance to finish in one of those spots (34% and 47% respectively).  There were even 83 out of 10,000 simulated scenarios where the Aces got a bye.  But the biggest thing for Evansville will be to continue to just play well and build their confidence.  If they are still playing at this level in three weeks, a couple wins at Arch Madness isn’t out of the question. 

 

9.) Illinois State Redbirds (6-9, 12-14, NET: 192, Hackman Projected Seed: 8.93-9th):  Illinois State had a standard up-and-down five game stretch since we last spoke.  Except for their most recent game.  That game was…..noteworthy.  They started with a good win at Murray State that included a rally from 15 points down in the second half.  Then they lost their next three vs. Bradley, vs UIC and at Southern Illinois.  They very nearly knocked off SIU after rallying from 13 down with 6 minutes to go.  Finally, they went on the road to face league leading and 23rd ranked Indiana State.  The Trees were in the top 25 for the first time since Larry Bird.  So, of course, this Redbird team came out firing.  They built a 14-point first half lead and went on a late run to pick up their first ranked win since 2016.  Now I’m not going to lie.  I was not rooting for you, Redbirds.  It isn’t that I have anything against Illinois State, it is just that I really want that #TwoBidValley, and I was excited at the prospect of a ranked team at Arch Madness.  Ya’ll ruined it!  But credit where credit is due, the Redbirds knocked some of the Trees’ best players off their game and freshman Johnny Kinziger had a career night.  In the end, though, the win doesn’t change much about ISU’s overall situation.  Ryan Pedon’s club is in a three-way tie for eighth place, and they still have the second worst computer numbers in the league.  They still have maddeningly inconsistent results that now include road wins over Missouri State, Indiana State and Murray State, and home losses to both UIC and Valpo.  That’s right.  Eagled-eyed readers may have noticed that Illinois State has literally lost the statistically easiest MVC game possible (vs. Valpo) and won the statistically most difficult MVC game possible (@ISU Blue).  The Redbirds do it by committee, with six guys that average 7 to 13.2 points per game.  The leader is senior Darius Burford with 13.2 PPG.  They have a very manageable schedule and as such have a good shot to claim the 8 seed, and maybe even do better.  They have home games with Evansville, UNI and Mo State, and a manageable away game with Valpo remaining.  If they win all four of those, I could see them catching one or two of the teams in the tie above them and moving into 7th.  Regardless, it is looking very likely they end up in the 8-9 or 7-10 game for the sixth time in a row.  Hackman gives them a 95% chance of finishing in that range, with an 87% chance they finish 8th-10th.  There are certainly signs of life in Normal, but consistency is the next step.

 

8.) Missouri State Bears (6-9, 14-12, NET: 139, Hackman Projected Seed: 7.81-8th): Dana Ford, presumably, remains on the hot seat as the Bears continue their run through yet another middling season.  MSU went 2-3 since my last article.  They won the first two at Southern Illinois and vs Belmont to extend their winning streak to four.  The two big-time wins coupled with their W over Drake a week earlier made it look like just maybe…..perhaps…..the Bears had turned the corner.  But the following three games saw them knocked back down a peg.  They lost at UNI by seven, by two at home to Indiana State, and at Murray State by ten.  None of those losses were damning on their own, but the Bears needed to snag one or two of them to make up for their mediocre start to the year.  Instead, the consecutive losses see them sitting at 6-9 in league play and likely looking at a seed somewhere in the 7-10 range.  Alston Mason continues to be one of the better scorers in the league at 18 PPG (third in the Valley).  But the team isn’t getting consistent contributions from anyone else, including Donovan Clay who scored a total of 14 points with 6 assists TOTAL over the Bears’ three most recent losses (in fairness to him he has been ill).  Missouri State’s remaining schedule is favorable, with home games against both UIC and Valpo, plus a winnable game at Illinois State (not to mention Bradley at home).  Hackman’s numbers reflect this, as he gives MSU the best chance of the three tied teams for the eight-seed (30%) and the best overall chance to jump into the top seven (35%).  MSU has some of the biggest range in the league according to Hackman with a 1% chance at the 4-seed (even a 3 out of 10,000 chance at the 3-seed), and an 8% chance at the 10-seed (with a half percent chance at the 11).  That indicates the computers haven’t really figured them out yet, and neither have I.  I am starting to think neither of us ever will.

 

7.) Murray State Racers (8-7, 11-15. NET: 135, Hackman Projected Seed: 6.12-6th): And now we have reached the first of four contenders for the final bye at Arch Madness.  The top three spots are more-or-less locked up by Indiana State, Drake and Bradley.  And it is highly unlikely anyone in the bottom five will rise all the way up to fourth.  So that leaves four teams (Murray, Belmont, UNI and SIU) that are currently locked in a four-way tie for fourth.  And it truly is a dead heat.  Hackman’s model lists all four teams’ expected league win totals between 10.23 and 10.65.  Murray comes in at the bottom of the tiebreaker at current because they have a 1-3 record against SIU, UNI and Belmont.  The Racers started the second half of the league season with a home loss to Illinois State, which was their fourth loss in a row and fifth out of six.  But Steve Prohm’s men have rebounded since with three wins out of four.  They blew out UNI in Cedar Falls by 28 points, then lost a heartbreaker at Belmont where an inability to make crucial free throws late may have cost them.  They rebounded, though, with a buzzer-beating home win over Evansville in which this they benefitted from the opposing team’s lack of clutch free throw shooting this time.  They then added a solid ten-point win over the other MSU at home.  Murray State is one of the more balanced teams in the league.  They have five guys that score between 12.7 and 9.9 PPG.  Fifth year senior Rob Perry (12.7 PPG) remains their leading scorer, but Belmont transfer Jacobi Wood (12.2 PPG) and junior Quincy Anderson (12.1 PPG) are right on his tail.  Murray has been one of the steadier middle-of-the-pack teams in league play.  They have won most of the games they should have, lost most of the games they should, and have more-or-less split the ones in the middle.  They have a tough road to finish league play with games at Drake, at Indiana State and at SIU still on the docket (not to mention a home contest with rival Belmont).  It is for this reason that Hackman has them most likely to finish sixth (25%) or seventh (26%), but still with a solid shot at fourth (12%), fifth (21%) or even eighth (12%).  They are listed as much less likely than SIU or UNI, but a little more likely than Belmont, to get the bye according to Hackman’s simulations.  That said, the bye is still very much in play.  But the Racers are going to have to earn it the hard way.  They’re going to have to pick up some big wins.

 

6.) Southern Illinois Salukis (8-7, 16-10, NET: 116, Hackman Projected Seed: 5.23-4th): Southern Illinois comes in at the sixth spot due to a 2-2 record against UNI, Murray State and Belmont.  They had an up-and-down third quarter of the league season but continue to be one of the bigger positive surprises in the Valley.  Bryan Mullins’ team looked like they were set for a down year after the losses of Marcus Domask and Lance Jones, but the Salukis are in the hunt for their second consecutive bye at Arch Madness.  That is due in large part to the emergence of the Valley’s leading scorer, and the nation’s second leading scorer, Xavier Johnson.  The fifth year senior averaged 7, 3, 7, and 7 each of his first three seasons, but has blossomed into a guy with a very high-volume output averaging 23.4 points per game this season.  So crucial to SIU’s success is he that no one else on the team averages double-figures, and he also leads the team in assists (for which he also leads the league) and steals.  SIU wins with Xavier Johnson, a great defense, and a pocket full of dreams.  Since we last spoke, Southern Illinois went 2-3 with a competitive loss at Drake, a heartbreaker at home against Missouri State, a blowout loss at Belmont and close wins at UIC and vs. Illinois State.  Their remaining schedule is a mixed bag, starting with a big home game against Indiana State, and ending with a trip to Bradley followed by a home game with UNI.  They also host rival Murray and visit a resurgent Evansville.  All those games are winnable, but none are gimmies.  Hackman likes SIU’s chances to get the final bye, though.  He gives them a 38% chance to snag it, the best of all the teams currently tied for fourth, six points ahead of UNI and well ahead of both Murray and Belmont’s odds. No matter what, they’re likely to finish in the fourth through seventh range with a 23% chance at fifth, 17% shot at sixth, and a 12% chance at seventh (90% total for fourth through seventh).  The computers think the bye is SIU’s to lose.  A win at home this weekend against a suddenly shaky Indiana State team would be a huge step towards securing it.

 

5.) Belmont Bruins (8-7, 15-11, NET: 143, Hackman Projected Seed: 6.31-7th):  The Bruins come in 5th for the time being, as they are 3-2 against UNI, SIU and Murray State.  They have gone 3-2 since the midway point, but it has been more good than bad.  A competitive home loss to Indiana State opened the second half, followed by a seven-point loss at Missouri State.  At that point the Bruins had lost six of seven.  But they rebounded with a three game winning streak that includes a clutch win over rival Murray State at home, a blowout road win over Valpo, and a comfortable 14-point win over Southern Illinois.  Belmont is led in both points (17.5 PPG) and rebounds (5.7 RPG) by sophomore Vanderbilt transfer Malik Dia who has found himself in….well….still Nashville.  Sophomore Ja’kobi Gillespie returned to the lineup in February after an injury absence and has seen the squad win three of the four games since his return.  His 17.2 PPG, 4.1 RPB and 4.3 APG have been a difference maker.  And he has only improved upon his numbers since his return.  Cade Tyson is the third of Belmont’s sophomore studs, averaging 16.6 PPG and 5.7 RPG.  If Belmont can keep that trio together, hoo-boy.  Casey Alexander may have a juggernaut on his hands in a couple years.  I gotta say, Hackman’s model doesn’t really love Belmont for the bye, but I cannot understand why.  He gives them a 12% chance at the 4-seed, the lowest of the four tied teams and much lower than SIU and UNI.  He also gives Belmont a 23% chance to even fall to eighth, ninth or tenth.  If you ask me, though, I think they’re the favorites for the bye.  Yes, they have the lowest NET of the four teams at the moment, but not by a ton, and they have a 3-2 record with a chance to get to 4-2 against the other tied teams.  They also have what I believe to be by far the most manageable remaining schedule of the four tied teams with games at UIC and at home against Evansville and Missouri State remaining.  Their only real tough remaining game is at Drake.  Also, they’ve got Ja’Kobi Gillespie back.  They are a different team with him in the lineup as evidenced by their sudden winning streak.  His return may not be something that really factors into Hackman’s model.  The model shows Belmont’s most likely landing spots as fifth (20%), sixth (22%), seventh (22%) and eighth (17%).  But I am going to disagree with the computers here.  Give me Belmont as my pick to finish fourth.    

 

4.) Northern Iowa Panthers (8-7, 14-12, NET: 125, Hackman Projected Seed: 5.24-5th): While the season hasn’t been complete disaster overall, it continues to be a bit of a bummer for the Panthers who thought they might be in the thick of the title race this year.  Picked second preseason, UNI is clinging to the 4-seed at the moment by virtue of their 3-2 record against Belmont, Murray and SIU (and their superior NET ranking to Belmont).  They have gone 2-3 since the midpoint, with a couple disappointing performances. Had those gone the other way, UNI would be in control of the race for 4th, and possibly fighting for third.  A 16-point loss at Bradley wasn’t a killer, but the ensuing 28-point defeat at home to Murray certainly was.  They recovered to knock off Missouri State at home, but then suffered a back breaker, losing at home to a UIC team that had lost eight of their last nine.  They did finish with a 19-point win at Valpo, but the damage may already have been done.  UNI has been a bit of an enigma this year.  At times, they’ve looked like the team that was picked 2nd in the league.  They led North Carolina at halftime, nearly knocked off (should have knocked off) Texas Tech before losing at the buzzer, and toppled Stanford by 22 points.  They beat A-10 leaders Richmond, and won on the road at Missouri State, Murray State and Belmont.  They also lost by 28 at home to Murray and 20 at home to Belmont.  They also lost to UIC.  And they’ve struggled to finish games.  UNI is led in points (13.8), rebounds (6.2), assists (2.6) and blocks by the same guy, Nate Heise.  His return from injury after missing all last season was more of a boon than anticipated for the Panthers.  Especially after Bowen Born and Tytan Anderson have regressed a bit statistically.  Some of that is by design.  Born and Anderson were the only two reliable experienced weapons UNI had last year, and they have more options this year.  There is no denying that this team enjoys being around each other and playing together, and they work hard.  It is still very possible their best days are ahead of them.  They’ll need to figure it out quickly, though, if they want to get the bye.  A very difficult schedule, perhaps the toughest of any team, awaits them down the stretch.  They will see both Bradley and Drake (at home) and will visit SIU.  They also visit Illinois State and will host Valpo.  Hackman likes their odds of getting the bye, giving them a 32% chance at the 4-seed.  That puts them six points behind SIU, but well ahead of Murray and Belmont’s projections.  Beyond that they have a 28% chance to finish fifth, a 20% chance to finish sixth, and a 12% chance to finish seventh.  Overall, their odds of finishing fourth through seventh are 92%.  They will likely be the underdogs in at least three, maybe four, of their remaining games.  Still, we have faith in Coach Jake.  If anyone can get these guys ready to go, it is the Valley’s all-time winningest coach. 

 

3.) Bradley Braves (10-5, 18-8, NET: 64, Hackman Projected Seed: 2.99-3rd): Bradley is the only team in the Valley that doesn’t have at least one other team within a game of them in the standings on either side.  They are third place as hell.  Aggressively third.  And that isn’t a terrible place to be.  Above them, Drake and Indiana State are getting the headlines fighting for a conference title.  Below them, four teams are battling it out for a bye.  And here Bradley sits, safely in third.  They’re not so far out of it that a run to the tournament title is unrealistic by any stretch, but they are far enough out of it that they can still sneak up on people a bit.  Remember, Bradley has won an MVC title of some kind in three of the last five seasons.  They are the defending regular season champs.  This is a team that will need to be reckoned with if anyone wants to win the title.  And while their chances of winning the regular season are slim, they may well have a big say in who does, as they play the Drake Bulldogs on the final day of the season.  They’ll have a say in the race for the bye too, playing at UNI and vs. SIU.  Bradley went 3-2 since I last wrote, with an easy home win over UNI, an easy away win over rival Illinois State, and an easy home win over UIC.  They also lost at Evansville and lost a close one at home to Drake.  The Evansville game stands out, of course, as a major slip up by BU.  And it was.  But it won’t likely have a real impact on the outcome of their season.  Connor Hickman still leads a quadruplet of Braves who average at least 11.8 points.  The junior averages 14.5, while senior Malevy Leons is right behind him with 14 (and 6.9 boards), senior Duke Deen averages 13.8, and senior Darius Hannah adds 11.8.  As you may have noticed, this team is very experienced.  And they’ll be ready to go for Arch Madness.  With a NET ranking of 64, Bradley is still in NIT contention, as angry as talking about that tournament makes me.  If they can win at least four of their final five games, they’ll have a shot.  But otherwise, the rest of the season is mostly a formality and a prep for St. Louis.  Hackman gives Bradley an 86% chance to finish with the 3-seed and a 99% chance to get a bye.  Brian Wardle’s team won’t win the league, but they have as good a chance as anyone to cut down the nets March 10th.              

 

2.) Drake Bulldogs (12-3, 21-5, NET: 51, Hackman Projected Seed: 1.98-2nd): While Indiana State continues to get the headlines, and the accolades, and the top 25 ranking, Drake is just hanging around.  Hanging around.  Hanging around.  They’ve gone 4-1 since the midway point and while that loss was to Indiana State (giving the Bulldogs a season split with ISU), they’ve otherwise been right on the Trees’ like a fly on poo.  And they currently are lurking just a game back of an ISU Blue team that has started to show some cracks.  That said, the ‘Dogs haven’t exactly been on cruise control either.  They had to go to OT to beat SIU at home, had to fight off a furious rally at Bradley, and required 35-foot buzzer beater as time expired to win at Evansville.   Coach Darian Devries relies upon the reigning Larry Bird winner, his son Tucker, for quite a bit.  The junior leads the team in scoring (20.7) and assists (3.5) and is second in rebounds (6.6).  But the Bulldogs are far from a one trick pony.  Northridge transfer Atin Wright adds 14.2 PPG, while fifth year senior Darnell Brodie contributes 12.1 while adding a conference leading 8.1 rebounds.  And Kevin Overton will likely be the Valley Freshman of the Year with 11.5 points per game and 3.4 boards per game.  With a NET ranking of 51, Drake is not realistically in the NCAA Tournament at-large bid conversation.  But they are in the thick of the cough**NIT**cough race.  If they finish the season strong, they’ll likely be an NIT shoe-in.  They will probably be favored in all their remaining contests vs. Murray State and Belmont, @ UNI and UIC and vs. Bradley.  If the win them all, I would venture to guess, they’ll be cutting down the nets on the final day as well.  Hackman doesn’t think they will (or at least his model doesn’t give them a good chance of getting the 1-seed), as they are currently listed with just an 11% chance at finishing with the 1-seed and an 82% chance at the 2.  Whether they win the regular season or not, they certainly have the talent and experience to win Arch Madness and would rep the league well in the NCAA Tournament.  In fact, I would go so far to say that Drake winning the rest of their games, not winning the regular season, and then winning Arch Madness may be the best scenario for the Valley as a league this season.  #TwoBidValley

 

1.) Indiana State Sycamores (13-2, 22-4, NET: 28, Hackman Projected Seed: 1.21-1st): If you are reading this and don’t know the deal with Indiana State then….I guess…..welcome to MVC fandom!  I assume this is your first day and we are excited to have you.  Please DM me for tips on having the best experience at Arch Madness.  I recommend Matt Hackman on Twitter and the March to the Arch Podcast is pretty good!  As for the rest of you, I assume you know the situation.  Indiana State was cruising right along.  They slowly moved up the NET rankings, and had gotten themselves wedged into the at-large conversation.  They survived scares against UIC, Belmont and Murray State.  They knocked off Drake at home to take control of the league.  They had won nine in a row and…..look at that!  They got ranked!  All they had to do to land safely in this write-up in a fun optimistic place was handle lowly Illinois State at home.  Then the Redbirds rolled into the Hulman Center looking like the “Last Dance” Chicago Bulls and handled the Sycamores early and late, en route to a 13-point win.  This has marred the ISU coronation somewhat.  It was their first loss outside Q1 (and it was Q4), and makes Indy State 0-1 as a ranked team.  It isn’t a death knell to Indiana State’s at-large hopes.  Their NET still sits at a very solid #29.  But it pretty much used up their entire room for error.  ESPN’s bracketology lists ISU Blue as a 12-seed which would put them behind the last at-large bids (the First Four are currently sitting on the 11-line).  And I believe Josh Schertz’s men probably need to win out to feel good about their chances heading into St. Louis.  It is a case that really illustrates how wildly the deck is stacked against mid-majors.  You have a team that has not suffered a non Q1 defeat, has played all of its Q1 games on the road (with a 1-3 record) and all but 2 Q2 on the road (4-0 record), they’re winning the 9th best league in the country, and one bad loss mostly knocks them out.  One.  If you are a mid-major, even one in one of the best leagues in the nation, you pretty much have to be perfect to get into the dance with an at-large.  It sucks.  But ISU Blue will have a fan in me the rest of the way.  Swope, Avila, Conwell, Kent and Larry deserve better.  They are very good.  And I want to see them in the Dance.  I’ll be rooting for them to navigate the remainder of their (very manageable) schedule, (cough**lose at Arch Madness**cough) and make the committee’s decision as difficult (or in my opinion, easy) as possible on Selection Sunday.  #TwoBidValley

 

And that is it for this edition of “State of the Valley”.  I’ll be back in a week and a half for the 90% edition.  Thank you to everyone who read this, and the previous edition of “SOTV” too.  I didn’t really advertise that post beyond doing one Tweet, and it still got nearly 500 views.  Pretty cool.  Per tradition, I’ll leave you with a rundown of what Arch Madness would look like if it started right now. 

 

If Arch Madness Started Today….

 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

-Game 1: #8 Missouri State (6-9, 14-12) vs. #9 Illinois State (6-9, 12-14) – Noon (MVC TV)

-Game 2: #5 Belmont (8-7, 15-11) vs. #12 Valparaiso (2-13, 6-20) – 2:30pm (MVC TV)

-Game 3: #7 Murray State (8-7, 11-15) vs. #10 Evansville (6-9, 15-11) – 6pm (MVC TV)

-Game 4: #6 Southern Illinois (8-7, 16-10) vs. #11 Illinois-Chicago (3-12 10-16)- 8:30pm (MVC TV)

 

Friday, March 8, 2024

-Game 5: #1 Indiana State (13-2, 22-4) vs. Game 1 Winner – Noon (MVC TV)

-Game 6: #4 Northern Iowa (8-7, 14-12) vs. Game 2 Winner – 2:30pm (MVC TV)

-Game 7: #2 Drake (12-3, 21-5) vs. Game 3 Winner – 6pm (MVC TV)

-Game 8: #3 Bradley (10-5, 18-8) vs. Game 4 Winner – 8:30pm (MVC TV)

 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

-Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner – 2:30pm (CBS Sports Network)

-Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner – 5pm (CBS Sports Network)

 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

-Championship Game: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner – 1pm (CBS)

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