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State of the Valley - 90% of the Way

We are ten days (nine by the time this is published) out from Arch Madness and we are looking at a second straight year where the regular season championship is likely going to come down to one final game. Last year it was Loyola vs. UNI for the regular season title on the final day of the season. This year we are one round of games away from Bradley and Drake locking horns for the same spoils. Not only would it be the second straight year the title came down to one final game, but it would be the fifth straight season the title race has come down to the final day. That has happened every year except one since Wichita left the league, the exception being Loyola’s Final Four season. While the tournament picture is starting to become clearer, there are still some seeding questions that need answered over the final week. Here is how things look with 90% of the games in the books.


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 4,096 remaining possible outcomes to the 12 remaining games results in which seeds for which teams.


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 (1-17, 5-24, NET: 344, KenPom: 349, Hackman Avg Seed: 11.93/12th): The Aces added three more Ls to their ledger since the last SOTV, running their record to 1-14 in the calendar year. UE had a shot against Missouri State at home, as the score was tied with a minute to go, but ultimately fell to the Bears before getting blown out at Belmont and Murray State. Evansville has guaranteed at least a share of last place, and seem destined to (win?) it outright. They are very likely to be the 12-seed, but there is a path to the 11-seed. They would need to beat UIC at home and then win at Illinois State. UIC would then need to lose at home to SIU. The Aces would then win the tiebreaker over the Flames by virtue of their win over UNI being better than UIC’s win over Valpo. Something to play for I guess!


11.) Illinois-Chicago Flames (3-15, 11-18, NET: 289, KenPom: 294, Hackman Avg Seed: 10.97/11th): The Flames picked up their second win of the calendar year on Sunday with a nail-biting 74-73 win over Valpo that was about as exciting a basketball game as you’ll find. I doubt many people watched it, certainly not many in the venue, but I watched the end and it was quite fun. Sidebar: Is it just me, or does it seem like the people at UIC games aren’t dressed for a basketball game? Like they’re all just wearing some random shirt they had in their closet. No one wears UIC stuff. But I digress. UIC is in position to avoid last place in their first MVC season, which is something that the last two Horizon League-to-MVC squads (Valpo and Loyola) were unable to do. A win at Evansville would clinch it. A loss would bring it down to the final day but would still require the Flames to lose at home to SIU and Evansville to win at Illinois State for UIC to fall to last. And even then it would still be a tie. There are even 256 scenarios (out of 4,096) in which UIC moves to 10th. They would need to win out and have Valpo lose both games and, I believe, their win over SIU would move them to 10th via a tiebreaker. Avoiding the cellar is the order of the day, starting Wednesday against UE.


10.) Illinois State Redbirds (5-13, 10-19, NET: 271, KenPom: 273, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.54/9th): It was not a great week-and-a-half for Illinois State, who went 0-3 to run their losing streak to five heading into the final week of the season. The ‘Birds were beaten pretty soundly at Valpo to complete the season sweep at the hands of the Beacons. They lost a heartbreaker at home to Murray State that came down to the final seconds, and they were soundly beaten at Indiana State. Illinois State remains in 10th position due to a sweep at the hands of Valpo, but Hackman has them more likely to finish ninth than the Beacons, likely due to their final game at home against UE. ISU Red needs to outperform VU over their final two games to move up into 9th. There is also a scenario where they fall into 11th, which I believe involves a 3-way tie with UIC and Valpo. While there isn’t much difference between 9th and 10th, the ‘Birds have shown they can be dangerous (wins over SIU, Belmont and Mo State) and are certainly capable of winning on Thursday and giving one of the top two seeds hell on Friday. ISU-Bradley quarterfinal anyone?


9.) Valparaiso Beacons (5-13, 11-18, NET: 281, KenPom: 279, Hackman Avg Seed: 9.56/10th): Since we last spoke, Valpo has had an interesting run that ultimately resulting in a 1-2 record. First, they beat Illinois State at home to complete the season sweep of the Redbirds. Solid. They then lost at home to SIU in a game that was competitive for much of the time. Not bad. Then they went to UIC and lost a barn burner. Not great. Valpo currently sits in the 9 spot because they have the tiebreaker over ISU Red due to their sweep of the Birds. But if you assume Illinois State wins at home over Evansville on senior day, Valpo is going to need to either knock off championship seeking Bradley, or win at Murray on senior day to hang onto the 9-seed. A tall task either way. Valpo looks more likely to be the 10-seed. Regardless, their path to an Arch Madness title would be similar, and they have shown they can compete with the better teams in the league. If they get past their first game in St. Louis (which could quite possibly be a rematch against Murray State), there is a decent chance they could play Drake, who they tend to play exciting games against (including two close ones this season). Cross your fingers for that one, neutral fans.


8.) Northern Iowa Panthers (9-9, 13-15, NET: 210, KenPom: 213, Hackman Avg Seed: 7.75/8th): It was another rough patch for UNI as they went 1-2 since the last SOTV. However, they seem to have maybe veered back into a better place after their six-game losing streak. It looked like they have been dead on the water after they got embarrassed at Evansville and got blown out at home by Indiana State. But they put up a respectable performance against a red-hot Drake team at home (albeit a loss), and then went on the road to topple Missouri State (albeit in a game they basically stole). They still don’t look like the world beaters they were at the beginning of the MVC season. But perhaps they’ve gotten a bit of their groove back. We’ll find out this week as they finish the season at SIU and vs. Belmont. It looks like UNI is probably going to be the 8th seed. They likely need to win both of their last two games and have Murray State lose at Missouri State to climb to 7th. Sixth is possible if they win their last two, Missouri beats Murray and then the Bears lose their last one at Indiana State. But the “winning their last two” part is the difficult thing, as they will likely be big underdogs in both games. Nada es impossible, but if you’re a Panther fan headed to St. Louis you might want to start making plans to be there bright and early on Thursday.


7.) Missouri State Bears (10-8, 14-14, NET: 156, KenPom: 171, Hackman Avg Seed: 6.47/6th): The Bears’ up-and-down season continued as they showed both sides of what they are capable of. They topped Belmont at home, nearly lost at Evansville, and then lost to a struggling UNI team at home. Missouri State continues to be stuck in the middle, and that seems to be where they will stay. They host Murray State on Tuesday in a game where the winner will likely get the 6-seed, then will try to play spoiler at Indiana State on Senior Day. Sixth and seventh are by far MSU’s most likely landing spots seed-wise, although there are scenarios where they finish 8th, and some where they finish 5th. The 6th vs. 7th spot could be crucial, as that is likely the difference between playing Illinois State/Valpo or UIC, the latter seemingly the less dangerous team, in the first round. It is also possibly the difference between playing red-hot Drake/Bradley, or someone else (ISU Blue/SIU/Belmont) in the quarterfinals. So there is still quite a bit to play for for MSU. But any way you dice it, it is another letdown of a season in Springfield.


6.) Murray State Racers (10-8, 15-13, NET: 213, KenPom: 223, Hackman Avg Seed: 6.76/7th): Since we last spoke, the Racers got blown out by a team at the top of the league (Bradley), won a nail biter against a team closer to the middle (Illinois State) and got an easy win over the team at the bottom (Evansville). MSU is looking good for at least the 7-seed, and can steal the 6-seed with a win at Missouri State on Tuesday and a win at home over Valpo on Sunday. There are significant reasons why the sixth seed is better than the seventh, especially if you think Drake and Bradley are on another plane relative to the rest of the league right now (and if you think the same about UIC and Evansville on the other end). I laid that out in my Missouri State blurb above. I am sure Murray fans are used to being at the top of the standings and not in the middle, but for a squad that entered a new conference with an entirely rebuilt roster, middle-of-the-pack is nothing to sniff at. Regardless of their seed, I hope the Racer fans bring it at Arch Madness and bring a little bit of the old life back into the place.


5.) Belmont Bruins (12-6, 19-10, NET: 120, KenPom: 129, Hackman Avg Seed: 4.46/5th): Belmont had realistic MVC title aspirations right up until Sunday, when their loss to Drake put that talk on ice. It has still been a very good first MVC season for the Bruins, who entered the league with a little bit of experience but several new faces as well. While the title race may be off the table, Belmont still has plenty to play for. Most important is to get into the top four and avoid Thursday. At present, they are tied with SIU for fourth, and would lose the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head loss. But they are just one game behind Indiana State (who they have somehow not yet played) and……look at that…..they host the Trees on Wednesday. That game could well be a play-in game for the top four. If they win it, they would get into a 3-way tie with SIU and ISU Blue for 3rd (assuming SIU beats UNI at home). If my calculations are correct, that would be enough to get them into the top four (due to tiebreakers) with a win in their tricky final game at UNI on Sunday. Hackman doesn’t love their odds (60% a 5-seed). They do have a 2% chance at both the 2-seed and the 6-seed. So, there is still plenty to play for before Belmont makes their trip to St. Louis next week.


4.) Southern Illinois Salukis (12-6, 20-8, NET: 126, KenPom: 135, Hackman Avg. Seed: 3.87/4th): The last time we spoke, SIU was sitting in the 1-seed with a REALLY big stretch of games in front of them. They were tied for first with Drake and Bradley and played both on consecutive upcoming weekends (with a home game with Valpo in between). That stretch did not go well for them. They got blown out at Drake. They then got a win at Valpo and were headed back to Carbondale for a showdown with Bradley. And it was a battle. The Salukis played tough, and they had the lead late. But they just could not hold on in the final moments. I watched the last 10 minutes of that game, and I felt bad for the SIU players. You could tell they played their butts off and they were devastated they couldn’t get it done in front of their fans. But the past is past, and SIU needs to dust themselves off. They still have a lot in front of them. As of now, they have the last Arch Madness bye by the skin of their teeth. If they win their last two games, they will get that bye. And those are a winnable pair of contests at home against Northern Iowa and away to UIC. That needs to be their focus, and if they can lock back in perhaps they will put themselves in position to get another crack and Drake and/or Bradley in St. Louis. Hackman gives them an 83% chance to avoid Thursday. You just gotta get up off the mat, Salukis.


3.) Indiana State Sycamores (13-5, 20-9, NET: 92, KenPom: 92, Hackman Avg Seed: 3.63/3rd): Look who’s streaking it up again. It’s the streakalicious Sycamores, who have quietly jumped back into third place with a seven-game winning streak. Indiana State started the Valley season 6-0, lost five straight to fall to 6-5, and have now won seven straight to jump to 13-5. What a weird season. ISU Blue cannot get the 1-seed, but they still have an outside shot at a share of the league title. They’re the only squad outside the top two who can say that. They would need either Bradley or Drake to lose midweek (both will be heavily favored), and then they’d need the OTHER one to lose when they play each other on the final day. And they’d need to go 2-0 themselves, of course. That scenario is unlikely, but the Sycamores can still snag an Arch Madness bye without any help. The key will be their Wednesday contest at Belmont. A win there would sew up a bye. A loss, and they lose control of their own destiny. SIU or Belmont would need to lose one of their last two to keep the Trees in the top four (and that assumes they recover to beat Mo State at home). Hackman likes their odds though, giving them a 79% chance to finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th.


2.) Bradley Braves (14-4, 21-8, NET: 63, KenPom: 79, Hackman Avg Seed: 1.45/1st): If you are reading this, you probably already know the deal with Bradley (and Drake). If they both avoid stubbing their toe on Wednesday (Bradley at Valpo, Drake vs. Illinois State), the two teams will meet in Peoria on Sunday with the outright MVC title on the line. It would be the second consecutive time the league title has come down to one final game, and the fifth time in a row the championship race came down to the final day. I think most MVC fans (other than Valpo, ISU Red and ISU Blue fans) are rooting for this scenario to come to pass. But that is Sunday, and I will be doing another article before then. So instead of focusing on that for now, I will look at a couple of other things. First, in the event one of the teams lose and they tie. If Bradley loses this week and then beats Drake in Des Moines, who wins the #1 seed? The answer may surprise you….in that we don’t know because it depends how the standings shake out. Probably Bradley gets the one-seed, but not if Belmont does well this week. That’s the literal answer. I also wanted to look at the Braves’ at-large profile, as there have been some whispers of a possible #TwoBidValley revival if one of those teams wins out until the Arch Madness final. There is good reason too, as both the Braves and Bulldogs have been killing it for some time now. Unfortunetley, I don’t think it will happen. In the event Bradley wins out all the way to the MVC title game and loses a close one to Drake, they’d be 25-9, and likely have a NET in the high 50s. They have no quad 1 wins and wont likely get a chance to add one. It isn’t that I don’t think they are good enough or deserve it, it is just that I don’t think the committee will give a mid-major the benefit of the doubt. I think they would have done enough to get into the conversation in the media and get mentions….but not enough to actually get a bid. It is too bad that mids are judged by what they do in November, and the bigs are judged by what they do in February. It would probably……hopefully……be enough to at least get them a home game in the NIT though. The bigger NIT related Bradley question is whether they would still get an NIT spot if they lose to Drake on Sunday and don’t have the automatic NIT bid locked down (and then lose again at Arch Madness). It is not something they are thinking too much about right now, I would imagine, but the answer is that they would probably be on the bubble. It would depend on how many automatic bids were claimed. If they make it to the title game and only lose to Drake twice I would say that I think they’d get in but it would probably be closer than it should be.


1.) Drake Bulldogs (14-4, 23-6, NET: 72, KenPom: 76, Hackman Avg. Seed: 2.32/2nd): As I said in the Bradley blurb, if you are reading this you probably know the deal with Drake (and Bradley). If the Bulldogs win their last two games, including a trip to Peoria on Sunday, they will be the outright champs. It would be the second consecutive year the regular season title comes down to one winner-take-all game, and the fifth consecutive year the title race came down to the final day. But that is for my next write-up later this week. For now, I have a couple different things to talk about. For one, what if one of them loses this week and they end up tied. If Drake were to lose to Illinois State, it wouldn’t matter for seeding purposes (at least for the 1-seed) because the Bradley/Drake game would still be winner take all since Drake would have the tiebreaker anyway. If Bradley loses, it is a little bit more complicated and comes down to how well Belmont does. As for the ‘Dogs as an at-large candidate…..well…..it is a long shot. Sitting with a NET of 72, Drake has a lot of ground to make up and not a lot of time to do it. Should they win their last two games, then get to the Arch Madness title game and lose, they’d be at 27-7 and probably be sitting somewhere in the 60s in NET. That probably doesn’t do it. Which sucks because both Bradley and Drake are playing at a level that they could make an NCAA run right now. More likely they’d be hoping for a home game in the NIT. If they don’t win the regular season title or Arch Madness, they are probably a bubble NIT team. I think they’d be in, but it would depend on how many teams get automatic NIT bids. It would be close. Which is silly. But what are you gonna do just leave out the 11th best team in the Big Ten? C’mon man. They won like half their games!


Arch Madness should be a blast with a ton of talented teams showcased over four awesome days of basketball. Yours truly will be there for the 18th time and I am looking forward to the new format. I hope that the Thursday sessions aren’t too lifeless, especially in the afternoon (and not only because UNI will most likely be playing the first game). I look forward to seeing our rep play in the big dance. I think several MVC teams are capable of making some noise.



If The Tournament Started Today….


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

o Game 1 (Noon): #8 Northern Iowa (9-9, 13-15) vs. #9 Valparaiso (5-13, 11-18)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Belmont (12-6, 19-10) vs. #12 Evansville (1-17, 5-24)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Missouri State (10-8, 14-14) vs. #10 Illinois State (5-13, 10-19)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Murray State (10-8, 15-13) vs. #11 UIC (3-15, 11-18)


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

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Drake (14-4, 23-6) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Southern Illinois (12-6, 20-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Bradley (14-4, 21-8) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Indiana State (13-5, 20-9) 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 (9-9, 13-15) vs. #9 Illinois State (5-13, 10-19)

o Game 2 (2:30pm): #5 Belmont (12-6, 19-10) vs. #12 Evansville (1-17, 5-24)

o Game 3 (6pm): #7 Murray State (10-8, 15-13) vs. #10 Valparaiso (5-13, 11-18)

o Game 4 (8:30pm): #6 Missouri State (10-8, 14-14) vs. #11 UIC (3-15, 11-18)


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

o Game 5 (Noon): #1 Bradley (14-4, 21-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

o Game 6 (2:30pm): #4 Southern Illinois (12-6, 20-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

o Game 7 (6pm): #2 Drake (14-4, 23-6) vs. Game 3 Winner

o Game 8 (8:30pm): #3 Indiana State (13-5, 20-9) 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)



One more thing. For those that aren’t paying attention, we have a hell of a women’s title race brewing. Illinois State, UNI and Belmont sit atop the league at 13-3. Missouri State is just one game back at 12-4. And Drake, who has the best computer numbers of the group, is 11-5. The Redbirds have 4 very winnable games against the bottom of the league remaining, while UNI and Belmont still play each other (in Nashville). UNI also hosts Missouri State, and Belmont also hosts Drake. The Bears and Bulldogs still square off with each other as well. Should be a heck of a finish, but Illinois State has to like their current position above the fray. Take care of business, and the Redbirds should be walking away with some hardware.


That is all for now. I’ll do another quick one midweek in advance of the final day. Enjoy the midweek games!

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