By Jesse Kramer
The Missouri Valley is the only conference beginning its tournament on Thursday. The Valley had plenty of late season drama with Creighton, the preseason favorite, storming back in the final weekend to snag the conference title and No. 1 seed from Wichita State.
Creighton and Wichita State have been the two best teams in the MVC all season, but there are plenty of other capable teams in the league; four others teams rank in the top 100 on KenPom.
Creighton and Wichita State are the heavy favorites, but don’t be surprised if Northern Iowa, Indiana State, Evansville or Illinois State makes a run.
Schedule: First Round, March 7; Quarterfinals, March 8; Semifinals, March 9; Championship, March 10
The Favorite: Creighton (24-7, 13-5)
Creighton’s season in the MVC was very up and down. The Bluejays opened at 8-0 but then lost five of their next eight games. To finish, they won their last four games, including a victory over Wichita State in the final game of the season to win the regular season title and the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
Creighton is one of the best offensive teams in the country, and a lot of that is because of junior Doug McDermott. McDermott is a National Player of the Year candidate with 23.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game along with a 56% field-goal percentage and 48% three-point percentage. (He has already received his second straight MVC Player of the Year award.) He had a few unimpressive games when Creighton was struggling, but he ended strong with 73 points on 27-of-35 shooting in the final two games.
But the Bluejays still have other weapons.
Rutgers transfer Gregory Echenique gives them a great inside presence. Echenique is one of the better rebounders in the nation with 6.5 boards in only 22.2 minutes per game.
Austin Chatman and Grant Gibbs share duties as the point guard, combining for 10.2 assists per game.
The X-factor for Creighton could be stretch four-man Ethan Wragge, who makes 2.2 three-pointers in only 16.8 minutes per game.
The Runner-Up: Wichita State (24-7, 12-6)
Wichita State is in good position to make the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens this weekend, but with a quarterfinal exit the Shockers could find themselves on the bubble. The Shockers are 8-6 against the top 100, but their No. 100 strength of schedule and sub-150 loss to Southern Illinois are spotty.
Wichita State has one of the better newcomers in the MVC, Cleanthony Early. Early leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounding and field-goal percentage. As a 6-foot-8 small forward, he gives the Shockers some good size and versatility. He can be counted on to hit double-digit scoring every night.
The Shockers have a number of other guys that can contribute by scoring with Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton all averaging more than six points per game. Armstead is also in the top 50 nationally in steal percentage.
The Sleepers: Northern Iowa (18-13, 11-7) and Illinois State (17-14, 8-10)
Northern Iowa got hot towards the end of the season and finished in third place in the conference. The Panthers won games against Creighton and Wichita State in February. They also defeated St. Mary’s in December and nearly knocked off Louisville and Memphis in Atlantis.
Illinois State also nearly beat Louisville in non-conference play and was widely considered the third-best team in the MVC when conference play began. But the Redbirds got off to an 0-6 start and never fully turned the season around. They have two dynamic players, Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown, who can be counted on to do their part. They have the pieces to win three games in three days.
Players to Watch: 1) Doug McDermott, Creighton—McDermott, a National Player of the Year candidate, made a statement in the final week of the regular season. First he posted 32 points and 11 rebounds in a win at Bradley, and then he notched 41 points on 15-of-18 shooting against Wichita State to give the Bluejays the regular season title. McDermott is the best offensive player in all of college basketball.
2) Colt Ryan, Evansville—Ryan has had a fantastic, four-year career at Evansville. He averaged 20 points per game this season in addition to 4.3 assists, and during the Aces’ four-game winning streak to end the regular season he averaged 28 points, 4.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds.
3) Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State—The Redbirds had a disappointing year in the Missouri Valley, but Carmichael lived up to expectations as an individual. He finished the regular season with 14 double-doubles.
4) Jake Odum, Indiana State—Odum is a pass-first point guard. He has great court vision and is always looking to find the open, but he can also score and rebound the basketball.
5) Cleanthony Early, Wichita State—In his first year of Division I basketball, the junior college transfer led the Shockers with 14.5 points per game. He has scored at least 10 points in all but four games this season.
Click here for the full MVC tournament bracket.
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