MVC Tournament Preview

3 Mar

DATES: 3/3-3/6

SITE: St. Louis, MO



WHO SHOULD WIN: #1 Wichita State will be looking to avenge their upset loss in the semifinals to Illinois State last year. You can throw in all the basketball cliches about the Shockers. They’re a veteran backcourt with championship experience, they’re tough mentally, etc, and they’re all true, but people overlook how versatile and athletic their frontcourt is this year. What can hold the Shockers back? Poor jump shooting when it matters. In both MVC losses, Illinois State used their athletic wings to completely cut off the lane and Wichita State couldn’t shoot over the top, and UNI was in their base, shell defense, and the Shockers were cold once again. The Shockers allowed a team to post over 1ppp just once in MVC play, and that was back on January 6 when Evansville scored at a 1.03ppp clip in a loss, but oddly his Shocker team fouls a TON, but that aggression is mitigated by their depth. Wichita State’s quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of the #8 Loyola Chicago and #9 Bradley rock fight. The Ramblers are really banged up, with most notably Peterson ? for the tournament. Brian Wardle has been trying to get in transition and play significantly faster, because the youngest team in the country can’t operate in the halfcourt offensively yet. Loyola unfortunately is experienced and still looking to add on some revenge for their loss to the Braves in Chicago, and the Ramblers don’t allow anything in transition (15th lowest FGA rate in transition allowed in the country).

IF NOT THEM THEN: #3 Illinois State has been playing outstanding halfcourt defense of late, and they have the length and athleticism to challenge the Shockers, unlike every other team in the league. The question for the Redbirds will also be jump shooting. They get a little three point happy, and when the jumper isn’t falling, things can get really ugly. The Redbirds actually have an easier path to the finals than the Shockers in my opinion. They’ll have #6 Indiana State in the quarterfinals, a team that has seemingly given up on any sort of tournament run (rumors abound regarding Greg Lansing’s future with the team under an athletic department change that could become a really strange situation). The Trees weren’t competitive against Illinois State in their last meeting, as ISUblue is a team that is totally reliant on attacking north/south in the open floor with a veteran backcourt of Brown, Scott, Smith, and Clemons, but Illinois State takes away transition opportunities and they build a wall around the lane with their perimeter length, and a poor shooting Sycamore team fecklessly tossed up bricks all day. If you’re into the “extra motivation” thing (not sure how much you need than trying to get to the NCAA Tournament), the Redbirds were reportedly noticeably upset about the Trees getting more league recognition at the MVC awards luncheon.

SLEEPERS: #2 Evansville has essentially been a total nonfactor in the MVC Tournament under Simmons. Opponents are generally well aware of how to defend their high off ball motion offense at this point having seen it twice, but with a scorer like Balentine and big man like Mock, the Aces have two of the best players in the league. The problem is that if Balentine is off or teams are sagging/shrinking the court against the motion offense (which tends to happen in a tournament setting), the Aces don’t have any recourse. That’s their offense, and they essentially play with 2.5/3 guys who can score the basketball. They’ll have the winner of #7 Missouri State and #10 Drake, so a berth in the semis is at least practically a given, but I don’t see them getting by Illinois State. As for the Missouri State/Drake tilt, it should be EXTREMELY ugly. The Bears are severely shorthanded with Williams, Dixon, Roundtree, and Ruder all out (they’ve been dealing with the Roundtree and Ruder injuries all year), that leaves Dequon Miller and Ryan Kreklow as the entire backcourt, and Miller is dealing with a thigh bruise, and Kreklow can’t stop fouling. Lusk is going to sag and sag with the lack of depth and try to use a lot of clock on both ends, while Giacolleti will try to exploit the Bears’ lack of height with his jumbo lineup of Olejniczak and Schlatter. Drake shot 3 total FTs in their last meeting on Feb 24. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect from Giacolleti’s rotation tonight. He benched Abrahamson and Jensen vs Loyola, both healthy scratches, and they won (apparently Giacoletti and Abrahamson were involved in a verbal spat during the last Missouri State game). Abrahamson had clearly not been playing well anyway, and when he isn’t scoring, his defense is a liability. Who knows, maybe Drake comes out a little recharged after the shakeup against a banged up Missouri State team.

The winner of #4 Northern Iowa and #5 Southern Illinois (well, mainly just UNI) has to be considered a sleeper, but being in Wichita State’s bracket really limits those prospects. SIU is severely overrated though. They had two good MVC wins, both at home early in the season over disorganized at the time UNI and ISUred. The Salukis matchup terribly against UNI and particularly Wichita State because they want to get out in the open court with some pressure generated TOs and pushing off the defensive glass. That’s not going to happen against UNI and WSU. The Panthers are going to force you to grind, and they cut off entire regions of the court defensively, forcing you into jump shots you don’t want to take. Offensively the Panthers are going to loosen up your halfcourt defense by spreading you out with big shooters, and then things open up for the attacking Washpun. A semi final third installment with Wichita State would see the Shockers trying avenge their home loss to UNI that snapped their 43 game winning streak at Koch Arena. UNI is playing extremely well right now, and Carlson has been a big lift while Jacobson has convinced Washpun to play defense. When he’s engaged on that end, the Panthers have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league with him and Jeremy Morgan (Morgan is so key because he can essentially defend 1-4). It appears as though Anthony Beane has been cleared to play for SIU at least. Salukis have a less than zero shot without him.

MVC FINALS PREDICTION: 1 Wichita State over 3 Illinois State



DRAKE +2.5


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