Missouri Valley Conference Preview

The Missouri Valley Tournament kicks off tonight at the Enterprise Center. Everyone’s cinderalla story of 2018 Loyola comes in as the #1 seed and the obvious favorite to win the tournament for the second straight season. Despite Loyola-Chicago being the favorite this entire season has seen a conference that has flip-flopped at the top constantly, leaving this very open to all ten teams.  The Valley will only be being getting one team in the NCAA tournament, so every team will be playing for their lives over the next four days.  Let’s break it down.

The top 4 seeds.

#1 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers 19-12 (12-6 MVC)

The Ramblers will welcome back wing Lucas Williamson for this tournament.  Immediately making the best defensive team in the conference even better.  The Ramblers are not the same team as the cinderella of 2018.  They still feature 2018 Player of the Year Clayton Custer, center Caleb Krutwig and potential Player of the Year Marques Townes.  The Ramblers are the best defensive team in the conference allowing a meager 60.9ppg in conference play. The offense has disappeared at times during the season.  Leading to surprising losses to Bradley and twice to a rebuilding Missouri State team.

The Ramblers rank second to last in scoring offense in the conference they will have to rely on their defense and offensive efficiency if they want to go dancing for a second straight year.

#2 Drake Bulldogs 23-8 (12-6 MVC)

No one expected much from the Drake Bulldogs in 2019.  Picked to finish second to last in the preseason polls Drake put together a great season that saw them lose out on the #1 seed by literally one game, still winning a share of the regular season championship.  Much different then Loyola the Bulldogs are a strong offensive team leading the Valley in scoring and margin of victory.  They are led by two seniors Forward Nick McGlynn and Guard Brady Ellington.  McGlynn leads the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks.

#3 Southern Illinois Salukis 17-14 (10-8 MVC)

A sleeper team that can win it all may be the Southern Illinois Salukis.  A team with great leadership from Head Coach Barry Henson and a group of upperclassman.  The Salukis are a high level shooting team, 37% from behind the arc during the regular season.

Senior forward Armon Fletcher will lead the way for Southern Illinois averaging 16.6PPG, watch out for Kavion Pippen the nephew of Scottie Pippen protecting the rim.  Pippen is averaging 1.9 blocks per game. The key for Southern Illinois will be the play of PG Aaron Cook, if he can play at a high level Southern Illinois could be a team to watch. 

#4 Missouri State Bears 16-15 (10-8 MVC)

The Missouri State Bears took major strides under new Head Coach Dana Ford. Seniors Jarred Dixon and Ryan Kreklow have helped provide great leadership for a cast of transfers.  Ford has gotten the Bears to buy into the methodical approach, running the clock and working the offense until they get their advantage. The MVC newcomer of the year Tulio Da Silva has been a force on both ends of the floor while transfer Keandre Cook can light up the score board at any moment.  The Bears got a great draw with Bradley whom they defeated twice and potentially playing Loyola-Chicago who they have defeated twice in the regular season.

Tournament Prediction:


Session 1

Illinois State defeats Evansville


Illinois State will impose their will, forcing a grind it out game which will play to their advantage.

Indiana State defeats Valparaiso

Indiana State has better shooters that will take advantage of poor Valpo defense

Session 2

Loyola Chicago defeats Indiana State

The Ramblers play tight defense against the 3 and that is the may offense that Indiana State will bring to the table. 

Missouri State defeats Bradley

Missouri State has defeated Bradley twice.  The Bears will impose their will on the Braves in a low scoring affair.

Session 3

Southern Illinois defeats Northern Iowa

Northern Iowa is to inconsistent to match the Southern Illinois offense.  The Salukis will have a huge advantage on both ends.

Drake defeats Illinois State

Drake’s offense will be tough to matchup for Illinois State playing on a back to back nights. 

Final Four Picks

Loyola- Chicago Ramblers vs. Michigan Wolverines (-5.5)

The Final Four begins on Saturday with a matchup of two teams that play a similar style.  Strong defense and efficient shooting will be the name of the game.  While this game is not considered the main course of the evening it will be the most expensive appetizer the menu can offer.

When breaking down the South Region of the NCAA tournament bracket I listed Loyola-Chicago as a potential bracket buster.  When I said that I really only saw them winning the first two rounds.  They have shocked myself and the world be making it all the way through the region.  Last second shoots and supreme offensive and defensive basketball lead them to the Final Four, no one can argue they earned it.  Miami had better athletes, Tennessee was better defensively, Nevada had multiple better scorers, and Kansas State was just bigger, but none of that mattered to the Ramblers besting each playing their brand of basketball.  Talk all you want about Sister Jean, this team is good and they have a great chance on Saturday. But I have to follow my instinct on this game.

While the Ramblers are a great story, every story has two possible endings.  Happy or Sad.  Saturday the Michigan Wolverines will play the role of antagonist.  Talk all you want about Michigan having an “easy” journey to the Final Four.  They took care of business in each game the way their fellow higher seeds could not.  They imposed their will on other teams by smothering them defensively and hitting the big shots.  Moritz Wagner will force the lone big man for the Ramblers Caleb Krutwig out of the paint which will open up lanes for Charles Mathews to drive with little to no resistance.  Clayton Custer will still make plays but to see another day of above 50% shooting against a John Beilen coached team is just not believable.

The Ramblers will keep it close but eventually Michigan will impose their will on the smaller team. I see Michigan winning by double digits, I will take the 5.5 and run with it.

Michigan to win and taking the points -5.5

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Villanova Wildcats (-5)

While chaos was the theme of the South and West sides of the bracket, two #1 seeds made their way out to the East and Midwest.  A battle of two top programs as well as top coaches of our generation takes place on Saturday as the Jayhawks take on the Wildcats. This is the main event of the evening and the world seems split on who will come out on top.

Senior guards will be the main focus with AP Player of the Year Villanova’s Jalen Brunson takes on All-Big 12 point guard Devonte Graham.  Villanova has made already taken down two top level Big12 teams defeating both West Virginia and Texas Tech on their way to the Final Four and all the advantages seem to lean towards Nova in this matchup.  Multiple scoring options for Villanova make them very dangerous. I believe they will look to attack Udoka Azubuike early to force Bill Self to put in freshman Silvio De Sousa.  De Sousa showed immaturity in the Elite Eight matchup with Duke nearly costing Kansas the game. If De Sousa is forced into actions and makes similar mistakes Villanova has the experience to bury the Jayhawks.

I am a huge fan of the job Bill Self has done this year. He has taken his least talented team in years to the Final Four.  That has to be respected.  Ultimately Villanova is the better team and will advance.  While I believe Villanova will advance I am looking at Kansas to cover the 5 points.

Villanova Wins, Kansas covers +5

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