MVC Postseason Final Thoughts
The first week of March Madness is behind us and while there were some solid moments for MVC teams, I am a little bummed with how it played out overall. Loyola laid an egg, Murray State blew a golden opportunity, and the three NIT teams (including Belmont) came up with only one win between them (and three double-digit losses). Even Drake lost a heartbreaker in the second round of the CBI. The women fared a little better, with Mo State and Belmont picking up big dance victories. UNI and Drake won in the WNIT as well, and the Bulldogs beat UNI to advance to the WNIT Sweet 16. Below I have put together my thoughts on the MVC postseason. For a quick rundown of how all the MVC and MVC-adjacent teams fared in March, you can check out my mini-guide here.
In the WNIT, both Southern Illinois and Murray State made quick exits. The Salukis went down hard to Purdue, 82-60, in a game that was never close. The Racers were tied at halftime at Vanderbilt, but the Commodores pulled away with a 45-19 second half en route to a 73-47 victory. On the positive side, UNI handled Summit League runner ups Kansas City 75-58 at the McLeod Center, and Drake got an impressive OT victory at Missouri. The Bulldogs trailed 10-0 and 17-4 out the gate, but stormed back to take the lead by halftime. DU had a six-point lead with three minutes to go that evaporated, but they were able win it back in OT. Drake then went on to beat UNI at home in round two, 62-55. The game was tight throughout the first three quarters until UNI went 8 minutes only scoring two points. Drake pulled away after that. The Bulldogs are the only MVC team still playing (men or women), and they’ll visit South Dakota State on Thursday for the round of 16.
In the NCAAs, Missouri State showed why it deserved an at-large bid with a 61-50 victory over Florida State in the inaugural Women’s First Four. It is the third straight season Missouri State has won at least one NCAA Tournament game (not counting the cancelled tournament of 2020, but at 26-4 there is a pretty good chance they would’ve done it that year as well). The Bears advanced to play Ohio State in the first round and gave the Buckeyes a very good run but ultimately fell short, 63-56. Illinois State got the Valley’s automatic bid and had to play at second-seeded Iowa in round one. ISU did hold a brief lead early on, but ultimately fell 98-58. Belmont, seeded 12th, had a thrilling game against 5th seeded Oregon. It took two overtimes to settle it, but the Bruins ultimately came out on top by a score of 73-70. The Bruins nearly advanced to the Sweet 16, and probably should have. Leading by two over Tennessee with under a minute to go, BU missed two free throws to give Tennessee a chance. They took advantage, hitting a 3-pointer on their next possession to take the lead. The Lady Vols ultimately won, 70-67. Of note in the women’s NCAAs, three of the biggest upsets in the first two rounds came from teams that are not in the MVC, but have MVC ties. Beyond Belmont’s win over Oregon, 10th seeded Creighton beat 2nd seeded Iowa in Iowa City to advance to the Sweet 16. On top of that, MVFC members South Dakota delivered perhaps the biggest shocker of the weekend when they beat 2nd seeded national title contender Baylor, 61-47, in round two in Waco. Well done ladies.
The Basketball Classic
There are no Valley teams in the Basketball Classic, but I did want to share a story with you. I briefly put an ESPN+ game on for funsies one night. The announcer literally said, “We don’t really know what will happen next for these guys. We will play someone else at some time, but they’re pretty much just making it up as they go along”. Good stuff TBC.
College Basketball Invitational
The Drake Bulldogs were the #1 seed in the CBI and opened festivities with and easy 87-65 win over Purdue Fort Wayne. Okay Djamgouz led all scorers with 20 points while making six three-pointers, and DU didn’t really have to break a sweat. The Bulldogs were cruising right along in the second round against UNC-Wilmington, taking a 17-point halftime lead that increased to 19 at the 11-minute mark. Unfortunately, Wilmington held DU to a long scoring drought, ultimately outscoring the ‘Dogs 31-11 over the final 10 minutes of the game. Drake held the lead, though, until the very final moments of the contest when Wilmington finally pulled ahead with four seconds to go. They went on to win 76-75 in a heartbreaker.
National Invitational Tournament
The Valley and Valley-adjacent teams faced some tough matchups in the NIT and, quite frankly, did not fare well. Belmont had to be excited about their draw of Vanderbilt, getting a chance to beat the local rival Commodores on their home floor. The Bruins did take an early lead in the first half, but it was gone by halftime. The game remained close for most of the second half until, unfortunately, Vandy pulled away for an 82-71 win. Missouri State was matched up with #1 seed Oklahoma in round one. After a competitive first half, the Sooners pulled away in the second half. MSU had trouble slowing down OU who shot 50% and made 12 three-pointers. Despite a double-double from Isiaih Mosley (28 points, 10 boards), Oklahoma won 89-72. Northern Iowa was able to snag an NIT win for the MVC the next day, as they really took it to 3rd seeded Saint Louis on their home floor. The Billikens were playing without their best player, but the Panthers built a lead as big as 77-53 before a late SLU run in garbage time cut the final margin to 80-68 in favor of UNI. Unfortunately, the second-round game was a familiar story for Valley fans. UNI took an early lead at #2 BYU, but it was gone by halftime and the Cougars pulled away in the second half for a 90-71 win. BYU shot over 50% and made 16 threes in the game (matching the number UNI put up in round 1). That was the end for the MVC in the NIT.
Throughout the years, Loyola has provided Valley fans with several exciting March moments. However, their MVC swan song was a dud. The tenth seeded Ramblers shot just 27% and committed 14 turnovers in a rough 54-41 loss to Ohio State. Lucas Williamson, in particular, struggled. He shot just 1-10 overall and scored only 4 points. The game was a…..let’s call it a “defensive struggle”…..for the first 12 minutes as Loyola led 13-11 at the 8 minute mark. But then Ohio State started scoring and Loyola kept struggling. There were times the Ramblers were able to cut it somewhat close, but Ohio State never felt in danger of losing the lead. With this result, we have a wrap on Loyola men’s basketball in the MVC. It has been fun boys. Truly. Some thrilling moments were had for sure, and we are sad to see you go. Best of luck in the A10.
Murray State had a bittersweet March. It began with an OT victory in round one and ended with an incredible missed opportunity. The 7th seeded Racers played an exciting, if sometimes frustrating, back-and-forth first round game with 10th seeded San Francisco. They built an 8-point lead with 2 minutes to go, only to see it disappear after extremely poor execution down the stretch. They went to OT where both teams played at a very high level, but it was the Racers left standing when the dust settled. They ultimately pulled away for a 92-87 win. Murray State advanced to play not 2nd seeded Kentucky, but 15th seeded St. Peter’s in round two. A golden opportunity for the program’s first Sweet 16 sat tantalizingly in front of them. That is why it was so frustrating to watch MSU play a very mediocre game, and give away several opportunities in a 70-60 loss to the Peacocks. An inconsistent start followed by an untimely scoring drought gave Peter’s a 13-point lead early in the second half. The Racers just couldn’t battle back. Murray got it close a couple times, and there were a few moments when it appeared they were going to get over the hump and salvage this thing. But the Peacocks always seemed to make a big play when they needed it. St. Peter’s moved on to the Sweet 16, leaving southwest Kentucky heartbreak in their wake.
And that is it. The season is winding down, with just the Drake women continuing to play. I do want to wish the Bulldogs best of luck the rest of the way in the WNIT. As the season winds down, so will my blog. I have already done my way-too-early preview of next season, so this is likely my last post before my summer hiatus. It’s been fun! Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you next year! Go Valley!