MVC Tournament Preview: Arch Madness bracket, game times, predictions

The best mid-major tournament comes to St. Louis once again this Thursday-Sunday. Heck, you can scrap the mid-major qualifier because this tournament is as fun as any other out there, even from the Power 5 leagues.

There are a handful of interesting storylines at this year’s tournament, the biggest being if Wichita State and Illinois State will both get into the NCAA Tournament. Only one (at most) can get the automatic bid, of course. And if we get a Sunday Cinderella at Arch Madness, could the Valley possibly get three teams in the field?

Well, you’ve got to play the games to find out. Here’s everything you need to know about matcuhps, tip times, TV schedules, etc. for this year’s MVC Tournament.

Thursday, March 2 — First Round

Game 1: No. 8 Evansville vs. No. 9 Indiana State, 6 p.m. Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

These teams just met in the final game of the season with Evansville edging Indiana State 65-63 in the Ford Center on two Jaylon Brown free throws. In the first meeting back on Feb. 1, Indiana State won 85-84 in overtime. So this should be an exciting one as well.

My pick: Evansville 65, Indiana State 62

Game 2: No. 7 Bradley vs. No. 10 Drake, approx. 8:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

Another rematch from the final day of the regular season. Bradley led basically wire to wire on the road, which bodes well for a matchup on a neutral site. The Braves also won the matchup in Peoria earlier in February.

They say it’s difficult to go 3-0 against a team in one year, but Bradley has been playing its best basketball since the Jim Les era and Drake comes to St. Louis with a nine-game losing streak.

My pick: Bradley 72, Drake 64

Friday March 3 — Quarterfinals

Game 3: No. 1 Illinois State vs. Winner of Game 1, 12 p.m. Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

I can’t see either Evansville or Indiana State hanging with the Redbirds after playing the night before. Both teams are weak offensively, and Illinois State has the 10th-most efficient defense nationally.

If the Aces do reach the quarterfinals, the only way I could see this game getting interesting is if Jaylon Brown goes off for 25+ points. But that’s very difficult to ask of him against defenders like Paris Lee and Tony Wills.

My pick: Illinois State 65, Evansville 49

Game 4: No. 4 Southern Illinois vs. No. 5 Loyola, approx. 2:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

Yet another rematch from the final day of the regular season! The Salukis swept the Ramblers in the regular season with both games coming down to the final possessions, and Saturday’s game was decided by game-winning three from Armon Fletcher with 17 seconds left.

In this case, the “it’s tough to beat a team three times” argument could come into play, as both Saluki wins were essentially 50/50 games and Loyola was generally playing better than SIU over the last two weeks of February.

My pick: Loyola 72, SIU 66

Game 5: No. 2 Wichita State vs. Winner of Game 2, 6 p.m Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest Plus, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

Wichita State has been spanking everyone since its meeting with Illinois State on Feb. 4. Neither Bradley or Drake will hang with the Shockers after playing the night before.

My pick: Wichita State 84, Bradley 60

Game 6: No. 3 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Missouri State, 8:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch (blackouts may apply): Fox Sports Midwest Plus, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports Kansas City, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Go, ESPN3

This has a good chance to be the best game on Friday’s slate. These guys split the season series by a combined seven points.

The truth is, the Bears were pretty bad after starting 5-3 in conference play, losing 8 of their last 10. But two defeats were by one point in overtime, and two more were by one possession in regulation. Of course, the Bears’ only two wins during that stretch were also by one possession.

Meanwhile, UNI got hot for a one month period but then lost its last three heading into Arch Madness. Losses Wichita State and Illinois State are of course excusable, but Indiana State? That’s a head scratcher, especially since the Sycamores controlled that game the whole way through.

I’m feeling this is a chance for Dequon Miller to show off his clutch gene and Alize Johnson to dominate UNI’s weaker frontcourt.

My pick: Missouri State 67, UNI 65

Saturday March 4 — Semifinals

Game 7: Winner of Game 3 vs. Winner of Game 4, 2:30 p.m. Central

Where to watch: CBS Sports Network

I’m pretty confident Illinois State moves on to the finals regardless of who it plays here. (And with a championship berth, that would likely secure an at-large bid too should ISU lose on Sunday.)

However, what’s interesting is Illinois State played Southern Illinois and Loyola at home recently and was fortunate to survive both games.

The Redbirds had one of their worst offensive games of the season against SIU, which I would not expect to happen again against a Salukis team that generally hasn’t defended too well. So if they see the Salukis on Saturday, I think it’s an easy Redbird win.

Loyola, on the other hand, was the only MVC team to surpass 1 point per possession in its trip to Redbird Arena. If the Ramblers could score like that again in St. Louis, that could make things more interesting.

My pick: Illinois State 70, Loyola 63

Game 8: Winner of Game 5 vs. Winner of Game 6, 5 p.m. Central

Wichita State beat Missouri State and Northern Iowa handily in all four meetings this year. But something tells me the Shockers could hit a road bump simply because Gregg Marshall is 12-8 at Arch Madness, and three of those wins came in a year when his team went undefeated and the rest of the Valley was, frankly, quite mediocre.

I don’t think the Shockers will fall in the semis for the third straight year, but I do think regardless of who they play, it will come down to the final two minutes.

Whoever is sitting near Lynn Marshall for this one better bring earplugs.

My pick: Wichita State 79, Missouri State 75

Sunday March 5 — Finals

Game 9: Winner of Game 7 vs. Winner of Game 8, 1 p.m. Central

Where to watch: CBS

I think Missouri State, UNI and Loyola (in that order) all have a fighting chance at appearing on Sunday, but I’d still be pretty surprised if we don’t get the matchup we’ve been waiting for in the championship: Illinois State vs. Wichita State.

The Redbirds were clearly the better team when they met in January, and the Shockers returned the damage plus more in an 86-45 victory at Koch Arena in February. (Granted, ISU was without star forward MiKyle McIntosh.)

Now McIntosh appears back to his old self after a strong performance in the regular season finale at Northern Iowa.

If we do get this matchup, it has the potential to be an all-time Arch Madness classic. I see it as basically a toss up, but in the end I’ll give Illinois State the edge thanks to its elite defense.

My pick: Illinois State 70, Wichita State 69

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