MVC Hoops Power Rankings: One Game Left
Well, I guess the MVC schedulers got it right. On Saturday in Cedar Falls we will have the de-facto MVC regular season championship game, Loyola vs. UNI. As the great John Candy once said on the baseball documentary Rookie of the Year, “This is what its all about. One game. There is no tomorrow. This is for the whole magilla, for the whole ball of wax, for the whole kitten caboodle, for the whole enchilada, for the whole shootin’ match, this is for aaaaaaalllllllll the marbles”. And he was right. The winner of this game, as you all know, will be the outright MVC champion and the 1-seed at Arch Madness. But it isn’t just about UNI and Loyola. Drake and Mo State can assure themselves a tie for second (and seeds ranging from 2 to 4 based on the results of the other games) with wins. The rest is effectively locked in. Bradley will almost certainly be #5, and SIU #6. We also know that Thursday will feature Illinois State vs. Indiana State and Valpo vs. Evansville, the only question is what color the ‘Birds and Trees will be wearing. My power rankings with one game to go are below.
-UIC Flames (8-10 Horizon, 12-15 Overall, NET: 292): UIC got a home win against Green Bay yesterday which I believe puts them in the 8-9 game for the Horizon League Tournament. I don’t know for sure, because the Horizon League has a very wide range of games played between their different teams, so I am assuming they will go off winning percentage. I also think UIC is in line to host the first round, likely against Milwaukee, although they may have forfeited that opportunity when they left the league. It is unclear, and my 2 minutes of Googling didn’t lead to a definitive answer. Regardless, they’ll end the regular season against UWM on Saturday at home before starting the HL Tournament on Tuesday.
-Belmont Bruins (14-3 OVC, 24-5 Overall, NET: 67): The big OVC showdown between Belmont and Murray did not live up to the hype because Belmont did not live up to the hype. The Bruins’ 76-43 thumping at the hands of the Racers more-or-less put Belmont’s tourney at-large hopes on ice. But it also created a pretty clear way for both OVC-to-MVC squads to make the dance. Murray looks to be pretty much “in” at this point. If Belmont can lick their wounds and find a way to win the OVC Tournament, you’ll likely see both in the tourney. But first, Belmont will host Tennessee State on Saturday to try to wrap up the #2 seed, and the accompanying double-bye. The tournament starts on Wednesday, but the top two seeds will not start play until Friday. The Championship is at 7:30pm Central on Saturday, just in time for folks in St. Louis to get to the bars to watch after the Arch Madness semifinals.
-Murray State Racers (17-0 OVC, 27-2 Overall, NET: 22): Murray’s 76-43 thrashing of Belmont on Thursday gave the Racers the outright OVC title, the #1 seed in their conference tournament, and it may have sewn up a spot in the big dance for the boys from southwest Kentucky. Murray’s NET rating of 22 is extremely solid, and they are listed as a nine-seed on Bracketology as of this morning. That puts them two seeds above the cut line (at the 11/12 seed line) right now. They do have to hit the road to play 4th place Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, and a loss there would certainly hurt. But they might be upset proof at this point. This writer hopes we don’t have to find out. Murray will open the OVC Tournament in the semifinals on Friday the 5th.
And now for the top ten:
10.) Evansville Purple Aces (2-15 MVC, 6-22 Overall, NET: 323): It appears the wheels may have come off for the Purple Aces. UE put up one of the worst performances in program history at Loyola on Wednesday in an 82-31 loss at Gentile. It was the third worst loss as a DI team for UE, and their lowest point total in a game in that time. The game was 42-11 at halftime and was never close at any point. It was the Aces’ 9th loss in 10 games, and they are making a push to be one of the worst MVC teams of the millennium. UE is locked into the ten-seed at Arch Madness and will play Valpo in the second game on Thursday. They’ll try to play spoiler on Saturday at home against Mo State.
9.) Illinois State Redbirds (4-13 MVC, 11-19 Overall, NET: 207): The ‘Birds lost badly at SIU on Wednesday, giving up 90 points to a team that really isn’t built to score that much. Illinois State has been competitive at times under interim coach Brian Jones but is now 0-4 post-Muller. They’ve lost ten out of eleven games overall and look to be limping into Arch Madness. Several of those games have been competitive, including a very exciting 89-88 loss to Drake and a 72-70 loss to UNI that came down to the final possession. But ISU has not been able to get over the hump. The Redbirds are locked into the 8-9 game at Arch Madness where they will play Indiana State. Seeding will be determined by the winner of Saturday’s ISU-ISU game on Senior Day in Normal, but no matter what happens they’ll get a rematch at Enterprise Center to open the tournament on Thursday.
8.) Indiana State Sycamores (4-13 MVC, 11-18 Overall, NET: 229): Indiana State gave UNI all it could handle in Terre Haute on Wednesday, making 13 three-pointers and shooting 57% overall as the Panthers struggled to slow down their offense. ISU was an absurd 19-25 (76%) on shots inside the arc in the game but committed 14 turnovers to UNI’s 6 which ended up being the difference. Still, if that Sycamores team shows up at Arch Madness, they could give anyone in the league trouble. ISU took UNI to the brink twice, beat Mo State at home, played 32 minutes of even ball in Springfield, split with Bradley and played semi-competitive games with Loyola. The only top five team they didn’t seem to have an answer for was Drake. ISU will have a chance to ruin Illinois State’s senior day on Saturday, then they’ll play the Redbirds again in the Arch Madness opener on Thursday in St. Louis.
7.) Valparaiso Beacons (6-11 MVC, 13-16 Overall, NET: 209): Valpo is two games ahead of Indiana State in the standings and beat them twice, but I considered putting them behind the Sycamores on these rankings. Valpo has not been listless by any means. They swept Evansville over two days and played Drake and Loyola close. But other than two recent wins against last-place UE, Valpo just doesn’t seem to be able to get over the hump. This is a squad that should be in a better place in the standings based on their talent, but they’ve lost 6 of 7 non-Evansville games despite having the opportunity to win several of those contests. Sometimes when that happens your luck starts to even out in the tournament, and you make a run. However sometimes you just aren’t a clutch team. We’ll find out which category Valpo falls into next week when they start their tournament run as the 7-seed against Evansville on Thursday night. Before that, they’ll visit Bradley on Saturday for the last regular season game of the MVC season.
6.) Southern Illinois Salukis (9-8 MVC, 16-13 Overall, NET: 133): There are several teams in the MVC that are playing their best ball right now, but SIU might be the squad most at their peak. SIU has won four in a row, five of six and six of eight since a 44-39 loss to Loyola that left them under .500 overall and 3-6 in the league. Not only are the Salukis winning, but they’re scoring points. They scored at least 65 points in each of their last six wins, and at least 75 in four of them. On Wednesday their offense dismantled Illinois State to the tune of 90-69. I’d be willing to bet that when SIU gives up 69 points, they haven’t won very often this year. But on Wednesday they throttled ISU by knocking down three pointers at a 58% clip and shooing 57% overall. Coupet, Jones and Domask have turned into a three headed monster. The Salukis visit Drake on Saturday before taking their likely place as the six-seed at Arch Madness where they will play the final quarterfinal game of the day on Friday.
5.) Bradley Braves (10-7 MVC, 16-13 Overall, NET: 97): I very nearly swapped the Salukis and Braves on this list. After their second bad loss in three games, the question has to be asked. Did Bradley peak too early? They won seven games out of eight, including Ws over the likes of Loyola and Drake (twice). But a blowout loss at SIU, a win over Illinois State, and a blowout loss at Missouri State followed. Are the Braves coming back to Earth or is it just a blip on the radar for a squad that already knows where they will likely be at Arch Madness (5-seed), and may be prepping ahead? The answer will reveal itself in the coming week. BU hosts Valpo on Senior Day before their Arch Madness journey begins in the second quarterfinal on Friday, playing as the 5-seed.
4.) Drake Bulldogs (12-5 MVC, 21-9 Overall, NET: 91): Drake and Valpo went toe-to-toe for most of the game on Wednesday, but the ‘Dogs put their foot on the gas over the final five minutes to put the Beacons away. It has been a good couple weeks for the Drake after suffering a three-game losing streak. They got blowout wins over UE and Indiana State, handled Loyola in Gentile, and pulled away for a road win over Valpo. They are quietly entering Arch Madness as one of the league’s hottest teams. The Bulldogs can no longer win the regular season title, but can guarantee themselves a tie for second place with a victory at home against Southern Illinois on Saturday. Drake could still be seeded anywhere from 2nd to 4th. In the event of a loss to the Salukis, they are guaranteed to be 4th. With a win, Drake ends up 4th in 25% of the possible scenarios, 3rd in 25% and 2nd in 50%. However, the scenarios where Drake finishes second require Evansville to beat Missouir State. They finish third with a win and a UNI win over Loyola (as well as an MSU win over UE).
3.) Missouri State Bears (12-5 MVC, 21-9 Overall, NET: 63): The Bears recovered nicely from their loss to UNI with a comfortable 83-67 over the Bradley Braves. Most Valley fans would have called that game a toss-up, or at least something close to it, before tip. But Missouri State led for most of the game and won with relative ease. The Bears are in the same situation as Drake in that they cannot win the league title after Wednesday’s results, but they can guarantee a tie for second place with a win at Evansville on Saturday. MSU can still finish anywhere from 2nd to 4th in seeding. With a win, MSU cannot finish lower than 3rd, and with the way the Aces have been playing a win over the last place Aces is likely. To finish with the 2-seed, the Bears need to win, they need UNI to win, and they need Drake to win. That would put them in a 3-way tie with Drake and Loyola which they would win. All other scenarios in which MSU wins, they finish 3rd as they would win a 2-way tiebreaker over Drake for 3rd, lose a two-way tiebreaker with Loyola for 2nd, lose a two-way tiebreaker with UNI for 2nd, and finish second in a three-way tie for second with UNI and Drake. The Bears fall to the 4 seed only if they lose and Drake wins. A win also helps Missouri State’s NIT chances, should they need it.
2.) Northern Iowa Panthers (13-4 MVC, 17-10 Overall, NET: 101): UNI’s run in the last two plus months makes you wonder what could have been if they would have been healthy to start the year. The Panthers’ very drab 4-6 noncon performance has held them back overall, but since an 8-point loss to Richmond on December 5th Northern Iowa has been competitive in nearly every game they’ve played. Nineteen out of twenty games since then have either been wins, 2-point losses or OT losses. In fact, after those two total duds to start the season, UNI has been in just about every game they’ve played this year with the exception of the Richmond and Loyola games. UNI struggled mightily to slow down the Indiana State offense on Wednesday, but the Panther offense purred. They made 50% of their three pointers and shot 26-42 from inside the arc to get the job done against the Sycamores. That set up Saturday’s winner-take-all contest with Loyola, a game that most UNI fans would not have thought would happen for most of the season. A win, obviously, gives UNI the outright league title, #1 seed at Arch Madness and an automatic NIT spot should they need it. A loss means UNI will be either the two or three seed, and only a three if Missouri State loses to Evansville. If you would have offered this scenario to UNI fans at the end of December, they would have tripped all over themselves to take it. Strangely, UNI is listed on the most recent Bracketology as an AQ, snagging a 14-seed. I don’t know why the Panthers are included since they would be the 2-seed if Arch Madness started today, but it’s a fun little fact for you.
1.) Loyola Ramblers (13-4 MVC, 22-6 Overall, NET: 27): Loyola pounded Evansville so badly that they moved up eight spots in the NET rankings despite the fact that they only beat a 300+ ranked team at home. The 82-31 (82-31!) win set up the showdown in Cedar Falls with UNI for all the marbles. It also helped Loyola’s at-large case. The Ramblers are hoping they don’t need to worry about it, but as of right now they’d be on the bubble. This morning’s bracketology has Loyola as one of the last four teams in the field at current. Jerry Palm with CBS also has them on the bubble as an 11-seed in his latest bracket released this morning. Loyola does not need the league title for an NIT spot like UNI does, but they probably need to beat UNI on Saturday to feel OK about their NCAA at-large chances should they need them. Arch Madness seeding scenarios are more complicated for Loyola than they are for UNI. Obviously, they’re #1 if they win. However, if they lose and both Missouri State and Drake win, Loyola falls all the way to #4. Most of the other scenarios have Loyola at #2. The only way they fall to #3 with a loss is if Mo State loses to Evansville and Drake wins. The clearest path for Loyola is just to win.
And that is it for these rankings. We are less than a week away from tipoff of Arch Madness. Less than a dang week! I cannot wait. But first, it should be a heck of a Saturday. GO VALLEY!