The Missouri Valley Conference tournament starts Thursday, and there’s only two teams with a realistic shot at taking the title.
No. 15 Wichita State (26-4, 16-2 MVC) and No. 25 Creighton (25-5, 14-4 MVC) are the one and two seeds in the tournament, and they’re the only two teams in the MVC that have consistently performed well all season.
Creighton was the cream of the crop in the Valley until a three-game skid from Feb. 4 to 11 knocked the team down to second place. The three losses were capped off by an 88-69 blowout by Wichita State in Omaha, Neb., which gave the Shockers the momentum they needed to take the regular-season title.
“The shots we had tonight were very similar to the shots we had at Evansville (Feb. 7),” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said after the Bluejays’ 88-69 victory against the Salukis Feb. 14. “And some of the same shots we had against Northern Iowa (Feb. 4). Wichita State, that game was just an aberration. They were outstanding; we weren’t very good.”
Along with the 19-point victory in Creighton’s own building, Wichita State also defeated SIU by 43 points Jan. 21. The margin of defeat was the largest in SIU history.
“They were clicking on all cylinders from the beginning. You have to give them credit,” SIU coach Chris Lowery said.
The Shockers’ only losses came against either ranked teams or in overtime, and they have the best shot at an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament in March. Creighton could land an at-large bid as well, but its loss to Evansville puts the team on the bubble.
Other than the Shockers and the Bluejays, there’s a lot of mediocrity in the field. Missouri State, last season’s No. 1 seed, is one of five teams tied at 9-9 in conference play. Indiana State, last season’s MVC champion and lone representative in the NCAA tournament last season, fell to the eight seed this season and will face the Salukis in the opening game Thursday at 6 p.m.
The mediocrity of the Valley will show, and Creighton will get another chance to redeem its last loss of the regular season against Wichita State in the championship game Sunday. Creighton comes into the tournament after winning its last three games by a total of four points, and Wichita State has gone on a 16-1 tear in its last 17 games, with its only loss coming to Drake in triple overtime.
Unless something strange happens, the hotter team will win, which means Wichita State will be the MVC champion.
Check tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Egyptian for the full MVC tournament bracket and game times.
Joe Ragusa hosts “The Saluki Report” every Tuesday at 7 p.m. on WIDB.net The Revolution with Sam Donets and Kyle Fisher.