Spring has sprung, and before 65 teams received their invitations to the big ball, the Missouri Valley has to crown a tournament champion. Arch Madness begins today, and the Bradley Braves Examiner is breaking down each team's chances to earn their automatic ticket to the dance.
Northern Iowa Panthers – sportsbetting.com odds to win tournament: 5/4 – teamrankings.com tournament win odds: 40.06% - The Panthers were the class of the league for the second consecutive season, finishing atop the Valley with a 15-3 record. Coach Ben Jacobson returned the best seven-man rotation in the conference, and they proved it by rolling to a 25-4 record.
They can win if… they play to their potential and continue to suffocate opponents with their excellent team defense.
They are out if… they suffer a mental lapse. In late-season losses to Bradley and Evansville, the Panthers showed that they are beatable.
Outlook: Coach Jacobson will have his team prepared, and the Panthers will repeat as tournament champions.
Illinois State Redbirds – Odds: 7/2 – teamrankings.com: 12.57% - The Redbirds played one of the worst non-conference schedules in recent memory, but overcame their lack of quality opponents to finish third in the Valley at 11-7. ISU won six of their last eight league games and enter Arch Madness with much confidence. They concluded the regular season with a 21-9 record.
They can win if… senior All-MVC performer Osiris Eldridge disembarks the roller coaster. The Redbirds' star has been inconsistent this season, and is shooting just 37.1% in league play.
They are out if… Eldridge goes cold and nobody picks up the scoring slack. ISU had just three players average better than 6.6 points per game, so they need their scorers to step up.
Outlook: The inside-outside duo of Eldridge and Dinma Odiakosa is the best in the league, and they will carry Illinois State to the tournament finals loss to Northern Iowa in a rematch of last year's title game.
Wichita State Shockers – Odds: 5/2 – teamrankings.com: 19.15% - WSU exceeded expectations this season by finishing second in the Valley with a 12-6 record. The Shockers were picked to end in the middle of the pack, but went undefeated at home and registered three road wins to finish the regular season at 23-8.
They can win if… they can score. The Shockers are 17-1 this season when they score 69 points or more.
They are out if… opponents are able to control the paint against their small lineup.
Outlook: The young Shockers had an excellent regular season, but Coach Gregg Marshall's squad doesn't have a solid road win this season. They will fizzle out in the semifinals in a fantastic game against Illinois State.
Creighton Bluejays – Odds: 5/1 – teamrankings.com: 6.39% -- Coach Dana Altman's streak of 11 consecutive 20-win seasons is in jeopardy, unless his 16-14 squad can win a couple games in a newly-created postseason tournament. CU finished 10-8 in Valley play, after starting out by losing three of their first five.
They can win if… Altman finds a way to inspire his team and resist the urge to launch more than 20 three-pointers.
They are out if… junior center Kenny Lawson, Jr. loses his ability to finish inside. Lawson, Jr. has made better than 50% of his shots in 10 of Creighton's last 11 games.
Outlook: Altman will likely appear in his 13th consecutive postseason tournament at Creighton, but their run for the Valley crown ends in the semifinals by the hands of Northern Iowa.
Missouri State Bears – Odds: 7/1 – teamrankings.com: 9.66% -- The Bears had a fantastic start to the season, bursting out of the gates to a 10-1 non-conference record, including wins over Auburn and Tulsa. The Valley regular season wasn't as kind, as MSU dropped three of their final four to finish 8-10. They posted an overall record of 19-11 and are in line for a postseason appearance.
They can win if… they catch fire from beyond the arc. Sophomore Kyle Weems and junior Adam Leonard combined for nearly five three-pointers per contest, at a 40% success rate.
They are out if… their perimeter defense doesn't improve. The Bears were one of the worst teams in the country defending the three-point shot.
Outlook: Their hot start created a buzz in Springfield, but MSU will fall in the quarterfinals against a tough Wichita State squad.
Bradley Braves – Odds: 8/1 – teamrankings.com: 5.54% - Braves fans were led on a wild ride this season, as the team never won or lost more than three straight games. Bradley finished the regular season 15-14, including a 9-9 mark in the Valley. Bradley's streak of four consecutive 21-win seasons is in severe danger of not being extended.
They can win if… they carry momentum into St. Louis from their late-season home wins against Northern Iowa and Wichita State.
They are out if… they can't defend the interior and grab offensive rebounds.
Outlook: Bradley will return one of the best teams in the Valley next year, but they will trip up in St. Louis in the quarterfinals against a Creighton team that has already beaten them twice.
Indiana State Sycamores – Odds: 11/1 – teamrankings.com: 3.55% - No team in the league suffered more devastating injuries than the Sycamores, who overcame adversity to finish 9-9 in the Valley. Their overall mark of 17-13 includes wins at Western Kentucky and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
They can win if… senior stud Harry Marshall has big shoulders. He'll have to carry a squad decimated by injuries for three straight days.
They are out if… nobody helps sophomore Carl Richard on the boards. The Sycs are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation.
Outlook: Give Coach Kevin McKenna much credit for the fight that his team showed all season. Their inspiring journey ends with a quarterfinals loss to Illinois State.
Southern Illinois Salukis – Odds: 15/1 (field) – teamrankings.com: 2.33% - The Salukis were a major disappointment this season, taking an extremely talented school and trudging along to a 15-14 record and registering just six conference wins.
They can win if… they are able to tap their tremendous individual talent and turn it into a hot streak.
They are out if… they can't tap their tremendous individual talent and turn it into a hot streak. That's really about it with this team.
Outlook: The second-youngest team in the league never gelled this season. They lose just one senior, and the future forecast is bright, but they won't be able to get past Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals in this tournament.
Drake Bulldogs – Odds: 15/1 (field) – teamrankings.com: 0.72% - Drake won five Valley games in a row in January, but couldn't sustain the momentum and finished 7-11 in the league. Drake's overall record of 13-18 was disappointing, given three of the team's five best players were seniors.
They can win if… seniors Josh Young and Adam Templeton, and junior Ryan Wedel are all connecting from deep. The trio combined for 5.4 three-pointers per game, and Templeton hit 45.8% of his attempts, while leading the team in rebounding.
They are out if… they can't get second chances. By percentage, Drake is the second-worst offensive rebounding team in the entire country.
Outlook: Josh Young should be commended for becoming Drake's all-time leading scorer, and for developing into an excellent young man. The tournament? Drake won't make it out of Thursday's tilt with Southern Illinois.
Evansville Aces – Odds: 15/1 (field) – teamrankings.com: 0.02% - Evansville was devastated by the loss of their top four players from a year ago, and it showed. The Aces lost their first 13 league games, before winning three of their final five, including a win over nationally-ranked Northern Iowa. They completed the regular season with a record of 9-20.
They can win if… nobody else shows up.
They are out if… they can't bottle up the feeling from the wins over Northern Iowa and Wichita State, and use it throughout the weekend.
Outlook: The Aces put together some building blocks for the coming seasons, but they are terribly overmatched in their first game against Missouri State, and will bow out on Thursday.