Daily Egyptian

Pre-tournament MVC basketball power ranking

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

The Missouri Valley Conference tournament, otherwise known as Arch Madness, kicks off Thursday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Here’s how the teams stack up going into the tournament.

1. Wichita State (23-7, 16-2 MVC)

The Shockers come into the tournament as the favorite again. After a rough 4-5 start with MVC Player of the Year Fred VanVleet and all-newcomer team member Anton Grady injured, the Shockers have won 19 out of 21 games. Wichita won its 16 conference victories by an average of 22 points. With the senior core of VanVleet, Grady, All-MVC First Team member Ron Baker, and starter Evan Wessel all making their last appearance in the tournament, this team will be motivated.

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Coach Barry Hinson’s take: “Any time you have success in tournament and postseason play I feel it comes down to guard play. You’re looking at two of the best guards not just in the league, but in the country [in VanVleet and Baker]. 

2. Northern Iowa (19-12, 11-7 MVC)

Early in the conference season, the Panthers were one of the league’s big surprises starting 2-6 in the MVC. The start was even more stunning after UNI defeated then-No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 5 Iowa State in nonconference play. Coach Ben Jacobson has kicked his team in gear since then, winning nine out of the last 10 games including wins at Wichita State and at Evansville. UNI is the 32nd most experienced team according to kenpom.com, led by senior All-MVC second-team guard Wes Washpun. This team is experienced and has no reason to not be confident going into Arch Madness.

Hinson’s take: “Obviously the hottest team in the league. All I have to say is four things: [Wins against] North Carolina, Iowa State, at Wichita and at Evansville. We are literally playing the hottest team in the league.”

3. Evansville (23-8, 12-6 MVC)

The Aces are likely the most consistent team in the Valley. They have no bad losses as their six conference losses are all against the top six teams in the conference. But they don’t have any great wins either. To summarize: Evansville generally beats teams they should, and typically loses to teams better than them. Until Saturday’s 54-52 stumble at home against Northern Iowa, Evansville had won four straight games. There’s some momentum the Aces can carry into St. Louis, but they are not as hot as WSU or UNI.

Hinson’s take: “You got the Valley’s leading scorer D.J. Balentine, Egidijus Mockevicius is averaging a double-double and everyone knows their role. All their offense runs through those two guys … but the key to success is not what those two do, it’s the others around them.”

4. Illinois State (18-13, 12-6 MVC)

Dan Muller’s team was in contention for the hottest team in the Valley award two weeks ago. They had won eight of nine games with wins against UNI and Wichita State at home. Then two of their last three games were against those two teams on the road, and the Redbirds lost both. Since they score 67.5 points per game — eighth-best in conference — the Redbirds will only go as far as their defense carries them.

Hinson’s take: “Without question, the most athletic team in the Valley. They have length. They have quickness. They have athleticism. Sometimes, their best offense is a missed shot.”

5. Southern Illinois (22-9, 11-7 MVC)

The conference season was a tale of two halves for the Salukis. On Jan. 24 the Dawgs were sitting at 7-1 and second-place in the conference, then a four-game losing streak later they were tied for fourth. SIU has partially bounced back by beating four bottom-five teams, but did lose to Evansville and Illinois State on the road by double-digits. The Salukis rightfully belong in the top half of the conference, but have a lot of work to do to win it all in St. Louis and get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

Hinson’s take: “I think the biggest thing for us is how we responded to adversity. We had our leading scorer [Anthony Beane] on the bench and we needed to make a run, and we did. I think that’ll provide us with a bit of a spark heading into the tournament.”

6. Missouri State (12-18, 8-10 MVC)

Paul Lusk’s team has been as up and down as any team in the conference. The Bears have wins against Oklahoma State, UNI and Illinois State. They also have losses to Southeast Missouri State and Loyola at home. MSU defeated Drake and played 30 minutes of good basketball against SIU, and have done so without starting senior guard Dorrian Williams the last 11 games. All-freshman team guard Jarred Dixon is out for the tournament with a broken hand. But, with MVC Newcomer of the Year junior guard Dequon Miller, senior forward Camyn Boone and all-freshman forward Obediah Church left, the pieces are there for a run, but it’ll be tough for the Bears.

Hinson’s take: “If you don’t hit shots this time of year, you’re not advancing. Missouri State has certainly made that tougher for people. They have committed to the zone and make you take outside shots.”

7. Loyola (14-16, 7-11)

Porter Moser’s mad experiment worked: take your top three scorers, put them on the bench and win. It sounded ridiculous but after a 0-5 start in the conference, Moser needed to try something. Going 7-4 in the Valley with the new lineup, including two wins against UNI, it appears the message was received. But the last two games Loyola went back to the old lineup and went 0-2, ending the regular season giving Drake its second MVC win of the season. Loyola found a key to success, and need to get back to it to go anywhere past the play-in game.

Hinson’s take: “This is a team that was picked in the top half of the league, and at times has played like it. But come tournament time, we all have fresh hope. This is still a team picked in the top half of the league and could make a run.”

8. Indiana State (14-16, 8-10 MVC)

The Sycamores take the cake as the coldest team in the Valley, losing seven of its last nine games. Its two wins in that time were against the bottom two teams in the Valley: Drake and Bradley. Indiana State even lost to No. 10 seed Bradley in its recent six-game losing streak. The Trees ended the season with a win against Bradley to get back in the win column before the tournament. Indiana State has talent with guards Brenton Scott, Devonte Brown, Khristian Smith and all-newcomer member Everett Clemons, it just needs to execute.

Hinson’s take: “I think they have two of the most explosive guards in the league with Brown and Scott. As they go, so do the Sycamores.”

9. Drake (7-23, 2-16 MVC)

Drake is better than its record indicates. It has the top 3-point field goal percentage in the Valley at 38.6 percent and fourth-best overall field goal percentage at 44.8 percent. Sophomore guard Reed Timmer is the Valley’s third-best scorer at 16.9 points per game. The Bulldogs just need to learn how to play defense. Kenpom.com places Drake as the 321st most efficient defense out of 351 teams. The next worst Valley team is Missouri State at 199th. Drake will return everyone that played 15 minutes or more this season, so they’ll be better next season. It’s hard to imagine them making a run this year, unless they find the “maturation microwave” Hinson keeps searching for.

Hinson’s take: “Drake is probably the surprise team of the league to me. I am shocked where they are. They got a group of young men that are extremely talented and at any moment these guys can erupt and beat anybody.”

10. Bradley (5-26, 3-15 MVC)

Bradley has the same problem as Drake, just the end result is different. The Braves only have two upperclassmen that play among 10 freshman. What makes Bradley different from Drake is that the Braves are abysmal on offense. They’re next to last in the nation in field goal percentage and last in scoring. I like the Braves, I really do. I feel that the team will get better with time, but its a couple years of maturation away from competing for conference titles.

Hinson’s take: “I think Bradley’s biggest opponent is youth. I mean, they got 10 freshmen out of 13 scholarships. Their biggest opponent is just maturation.”

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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