Bracket Bits: Missouri Valley could produce a bid thief
Missouri Valley regular-season champion Wichita State and runner-up Northern Iowa cleared the rest of the MVC by five full games in the standings. Both the Shockers and Panthers will be Dancing when the NCAA tournament pairings are announced on March 15. For that reason, bubble teams will be paying attention to Arch Madness, which begins Thursday in St. Louis.
If either of the favorites loses, it’ll open the door for a potential bid thief – a Valley team that could claim the league’s automatic bid and thus remove one of the “bubble” spots available to someone else. Which teams might create such havoc? The most likely candidates are Illinois State, Evansville, or Indiana State.
Illinois State owns a victory over Old Dominion and swept Evansville in the regular season; the teams meet again Thursday in the 4/5 quarterfinal matchup. ISU lost its pair of meetings with both WSU and UNI, but every game was close with the exception of its away game at Northern Iowa.
Evansville’s victory over UNI on January 1 cost the Panthers a share of the MVC title. The Aces are also the only Valley team to beat Wichita or Northern Iowa during the season.
Thanks to a season sweep of both Loyola-IL and Illinois State, Indiana State holds the No. 3 seed. The Sycamores lost all four games to the league’s top seeds, although the game at UNI ended with just a six-point difference. Indiana State played its share of big-league schools during the non-conference season; losing to Illinois, Butler, and Memphis.
Do we expect an upset? No. Wichita State and Northern Iowa are playing for relatively high seeds in the NCAA tournament, which could help keep them closer to home. There’s no reason to suspect a letdown, even with a secure invitation to The Dance. But this is March, and we’ve seen some odd results from the Valley before. The championship is Sunday, and if someone other than WSU and UNI is playing, bubble teams will be watching.