Column: Dawg talk with Dodd

Predictions for every Arch Madness game

By Nathan Dodd, Sports Editor

The seeds are set and each Missouri Valley Conference participant is making its final adjustments before the 2018 State Farm MVC Men’s Basketball Tournament begins on Thursday.

With so many question marks surrounding potential upsets, one thing is certain: there will be a new tournament champion this season.

Each game of the tournament will have its own storyline and should make for an interesting finish. I do not foresee many blowouts in this year’s version of Arch Madness like there have been in seasons prior.


There are really only three teams that I think have a legitimate chance to complete the full run through the tourney and claim the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament: Loyola, Southern Illinois and Illinois State.

This week I decided to play the prognosticator and make game-by-game predictions for each matchup of the MVC Tournament.

Game One: No. 8 Evansville vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa

Oh how far Northern Iowas has fallen. After tying for third in the MVC last year with Southern Illinois, the Panthers were picked to finish second this season.

Now, the Panthers find themselves stuck in the first play-in game against Evansville.

Although many of UNI’s game in conference play this year were tight battles, the fact that they were unable to close out most of them makes me hesitate to pick them to pull off the tourney’s first upset.

Plus, Evansville will be looking for redemption from a six-point loss at UNI of Feb. 13.


My final take is that Evansville walks away with the first win of the tournament.

Game Two: No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 10 Valparaiso

Another instance of underperformance lies in coach Paul Lusks’s Missouri State squad.

Picked to run away with the MVC regular-season title, the Bears slipped and fell into Thursday’s second play-in game.

After a last-place finish, Valparaiso will make its first appearance in Arch Madness and will be forced to find a way to contain MSU senior Alize Johnson.

The Bears beat up on the Crusaders this season and won both matchups by an average of 12 points.

Deep down, I know that MSU is a better basketball club than what it has shown this season. Led by Johnson, an NBA prospect, the Bears will advance to the quarterfinal round against SIU.

Game Three: No. 1 Loyola vs. No. 8 Evansville

Loyola only lost three MVC games this season by a combined total of 11 points.

I think Loyola is the real deal and that coach Porter Moser has done a complete 180 with the Ramblers.

Evansville does not have much of a chance in this one. Loyola walks away easily.

Game Four: No. 4 Drake vs. No. 5 Bradley

Led by Coach of the Year candidate Niko Medved, the Drake Bulldogs suddenly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the MVC.

Picked to finish last in the preseason, the Bulldogs ended in a third-place tie and were awarded the fourth seed in the tournament.

In the regular season, Drake defeated Bradley in both matchups, a two-point and 10-point victory.

The old belief is that it is extremely difficult to defeat the same team three times in a season.

Most of the time, I don’t buy into that line. However, this time I do.

After hanging close with Drake in two matchups, the Bradley Braves should know how to attack the Bulldogs and pull off the first upset of Arch Madness.

Game Five: No. 2 Southern Illinois vs. No. 7 Missouri State

That saying about beating a team three times in a season arises for the second game in a row.

The Salukis took down the Bears twice this season with a two-point victory that went down to the last shot and a one-point victory in overtime at SIU Arena.

Former MSU coach, and current SIU coach, Barry Hinson seems to always have his squad at best when facing his former employer.

Southern thrived in close contests this season but is coming off two blowout losses against Loyola and Evansville.

In both matchups against Southern this year, Johnson posted a double-double. SIU’s success lies entirely in its ability to regain its composure from last week’s losses and its ability to shut down Johnson.

If the Salukis want to beat MSU a third time, they have to lock Johnson down. Another double-double from him and I do not think the Salukis will be lucky enough to win again.

Final take: Salukis win. Barely.

Game Six: No. 3 Illinois State vs. No. 6 Indiana State

If I’m being completely honest, I think Illinois State is a better overall team than SIU and deserved the second seed.

Obviously, seeding is based on record and if the Redbirds and Salukis would have tied, Illinois State would have been awarded the second seed. But, in terms of overall ability, Illinois State is No. 2.

My other takeaway from Illinois State is that junior guard Keyshawn Evans has the ability to turn a game on its side with his shooting. Combine that with the abilities of junior forwards Phil Fayne and Milik Yarbrough and the Redbirds are a force to be reckoned with.

If Illinois State gets hot early, which is extremely possible, this may be one of the few blowouts of the tournament.

Plus, the Redbirds are going to be on a mission to avenge their 30-point loss to the Sycamores from earlier this season.

I will take Illinois State to run away with this one.

Game Seven (Semi-Finals): No. 1 Loyola vs. No. 5 Bradley

Once again, I feel like I don’t have to say much to make a case for Loyola in this one.

As much as I like Bradley and the direction it is trending, Loyola is too much to handle.

Loyola is going to its first-ever championship game in the MVC Tournament.

Game Eight (Semi-Finals): No. 2 Southern Illinois vs. No. 3 Illinois State

This may be the trickiest matchup of the entire tournament.

The two squads split the season series with extremely tight games. The Salukis topped the Redbirds by four on Jan. 13 and Illinois State responded with an eight-point overtime victory on Feb. 8.

Once again, if the Redbirds get hot, they are really tough for any opponent. In fact, maybe better than Loyola.

What makes this tricky is that I don’t entirely trust the Salukis away from SIU Arena.

This season, Southern went 13-3 at home, 5-8 on the road and 1-1 on neutral courts.

The two recent blowouts that SIU suffered makes me hesitant to pick them, too.

By virtue of weighing pros and cons, I have to pick Illinois State to advance to its second straight Arch Madness championship game.

Game Nine (Championship): No. 1 Loyola vs. No. 3 Illinois State

The Redbirds lost both matchups to Loyola this season by a score of 68-61.

In the most recent matchup on Feb. 24, Illinois State took a late lead and looked like it was going to pull off the upset over the conference champion.

Loyola responded with clutch 3-pointers and escaped with the victory.

The two teams have seen one another, they know one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Both squads are coached by two of the best coaches in the MVC.

This game should be a fast-paced instant classic that offers everything from tough defense to sharp shooting from beyond the arc.

It is really hard to me to make a final decision on this one but, for the sake of variety, I picked Illinois State to become the first three-seed to win Arch Madness since Indiana State in 2011.

It will remain to be seen if Loyola would get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday and where Illinois State would be seeded in the dance.

Anything can happen.

Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

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