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Southern Illinois wins, 59 to 46. In its biggest game of the year, Bradley has its lowest offensive output of the season by far. Bah. Well, congrats to the Salukis. Hopefully they will be joined in
the Dance by 4 or 5 other MVC teams, including Bradley.
Bradley 24, Southern Illinois 23 at the half. Meanwhile, in New Britain, Central Connecticut State is trailing Monmouth 49 to 40 with five minutes to go. Doh!
Although I agree with the sentiment expressed on the above sign, I must admit that Saturday was another day of uncharacteristically ugly basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The shooters were cold, the offenses were poor and the scores were low. As The Valley Ledger puts it, “The Valley will not be sending teams to the NCAA tourney this season based on style points.”
More on that in a moment, but first, let me briefly bask in the glory of the Bradley Braves, a team I picked two nights ago to win the MVC tournament, a team seeded #5 that has now stormed all the way to the title game. With apologies to isuquinndog, whose Illinois State Redbirds are Bradley’s chief rival, I’m liking the Braves more and more with each passing game.
Bradley upset regular-season champ Wichita State in Saturday’s first semifinal, 60-52. It was probably the most well-played game of the tournament so far (that’s not saying much, alas), and the Braves continue to show the most potential of any team in the conference, IMHO. These guys have “NCAA Cinderella story” written all over them, from the crazy fans…
…to the aggressive, fearless, excitable players…
…to the hot cheerleaders…
…to the fact that, well, they can flat play ball (if you look past the inexplicably cold shooting over the last two nights, highly unusual for the Braves). I also love that they’ve come out of absolutely nowhere to crash the MVC’s “Drive for 5″ NCAA bids.
The “5″ were supposed to be Wichita State, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Creighton and Northern Iowa, but with Bradley’s win Saturday, both ESPN’s Andy Glockner and Bracketology 101 think the Braves are a lock. (So, is it now a “Drive for 6,” or is somebody getting bumped? Scroll down for more on that.)
All that said, Bradley definitely has not been playing its best basketball these past two days. That they’ve managed to advance anyway is a testament to several things: the Braves’ ability to “find a way to win,” their clutch shooting in crucial late-game situations, and the fact that everyone else in the tournament is playing like crap too. The scores have been low across-the-board, the shooting terrible, the offenses ineffective. If you look at the regular-season scores from when these same teams played each other, and then you look at the tournament scores, the only possible reaction is: Huh?
Take the Braves. Their season average is 72.9 points per game and 45.0% shooting. In their four regular-season games against Creighton and Wichita State — the same teams they played Friday and Saturday in the MVC quarterfinals and semis — they shot 41.8% and averaged 76.3 points. But in the tourney, they’ve averaged just 57 points on 33.6% shooting. And they won! The numbers have been even worse for the losing teams, obviously.
Why is this happening? Frankly, I have no idea. Clearly, it can’t be as simple as “the MVC is overrated,” since these teams put up far better numbers against the same opponents earlier in the season, both home and away. Perhaps it has something to do with the cavernous nature of the Savvis Center (which is normally a hockey arena), or the pressure of the big game, or defensive adjustments as these teams meet for the third time, or… who knows? It’s baffling, frankly — the simultaneous near-total collapse of the offensive prowess of every Valley team.
Whatever it is, it’s unfortunate, because Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon was exactly right when he said, “Watching the whole process of this league being built up to this point, we better back it and play well.” Thus far, they haven’t. Yes, there’s been some good defense… but honestly, it’s been more bad offense than anything else. (There was also some horrid refereeing, particularly in the SIU-UNI game, which helped keep the score down — 40-40 at the end of regulation! — but the refs’ follies account for only a small portion of the problems.) It’s unfortunate that these teams have thus far largely squandered a golden opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a nation that is slowly waking up to the Valley’s existence.
That said, I guess it doesn’t really matter all that much. Suppose this MVC tournament had the been the most impressive damn thing in the history of college basketball, with every team looking stellar and every game played at the level of that Gonzaga-Michigan State classic in November. And then suppose they all proceeded to lose in the first round of the NCAAs. The glory of the conference tourney would be utterly forgotten. Likewise, if they follow up this offensive crapfest with a whole bunch of NCAA Tournament wins, nobody will remember or care how subpar the teams looked two weeks earlier at the Savvis Center. No matter what, the NCAA Tournament, not the conference tournament, will determine the legacy of the 2005-06 Missouri Valley Conference.
So, arguably, the only way in which this MVC “showcase” really matters is the question of how many at-large bids the MVC gets, and what the seeds are. And I really don’t think “style points” will have much to do with that, especially when it comes to these quarterfinal and semifinal games, which are televised only on Fox Sports Midwest. (A well-played game, ideally with a final score in at least the 70s or 80s, would sure be nice for Sunday’s title game on CBS, though.)
With regard to those NCAA bids and the “Drive for 5″ (or 6), the MVC tourney results — notwithstanding how exactly they came about — have actually been pretty close to ideal. Bracketology 101 writes:
[An] SIU-Bradley championship was the only chance for the MVC to get 6 bids and that’s what they got. Missouri State and Creighton fans cannot like this result though because if the conference doesn’t get 6 bids then one of those 2 teams will be the first one to get the axe.
According to ESPN’s Bubble Watch, the conference can expect to get three in for sure — Wichita State, Southern Illinois, and Bradley — with Northern Iowa likely joining them, and Missouri State and Creighton being the major question marks. He writes:
Bradley [19-9 (12-7), RPI: 37, SOS: 66] The Braves likley punched their ticket by beating MVC regular-season champ Wichita State to make the MVC tourney finals. Beat SIU and you’re in. Lose … and you’re probably still in. Like San Diego State, the committee will have to evaluate the Braves with Patrick O’Bryant [an injured player who has now returned]. BU is now 8-5 vs. RPI Top 50.
Southern Illinois [20-9 (13-6), RPI: 44, SOS: 73] Salukis got Northern Iowa again and they are all but in the NCAAs because of it. I can’t see the two MVC finalists not getting in, and the league really looks set for four, with Wichita State and Northern Iowa joining the Salukis and Bradley. Will that be all?
Northern Iowa [21-8 (12-7), RPI: 21, SOS: 36] Fell to Southern Illinois for the second time in a week, but still may have done enough. The big question now: Are the Panthers ahead of Creighton, a team that swept them in the regular season and finished ahead of them in the standings?
Missouri State [20-8 (12-7), RPI: 25, SOS: 34] I think the Bears are going to be one of the odd teams out after falling to Northern Iowa in the MVC quarters. Good computer numbers but too many teams ahead of them in the pecking order right now. The Creighton loss didn’t help matters — would Mo State even be ahead of the Bluejays? The two tied for second and split head-to-head.
Creighton [19-9 (12-7), RPI: 36, SOS: 50] The Bluejays couldn’t possibly have gotten worse news on Saturday with Bradley and SIU getting to the MVC finals, Cincy beating West Virginia and Texas A&M and UAB winning again. Best thing for Jays fans to do is root for Bucknell, Gonzaga and GW to win their auto bids and not squeeze the at-large pool, but that might not be enough.
Personally, I’m hoping for six. Five would be great. Four would be a bit disappointing, and three would be outrageous. But nevermind that now — I’m going to focus my energy on Bradley, a team that, as I said, I have really grown to like in the last two days. The Braves are probably in the field regardless, but I’d like to see them take it out of the committee’s hands by winning the automatic bid later today. They’ve gotten this far — why not? Go Braves!!
B! R! A! D! L! E! Y!
Other scores of interest from around the country Saturday:
Notre Dame 66, DePaul 61: The Irish clinch a Big East tournament berth. If I have this right, they’ll be the #12 seed if Rutgers beats St. John’s tomorrow, the #11 seed if St. John’s wins. (Rutgers-St. John’s is — again, if I have this right — an elimination game for Big East tourney qualification. The winner goes to New York, the loser stays home.) So, what’s the difference for Notre Dame between being #11 and #12? I believe an #11 seed would mean a first-round game against #6 Pittsburgh, whereas a #12 would mean facing #5 Georgetown. Potential quarterfinal opponents if the Irish can pull the first-round upset: #3 West Virginia if they’re the #11 seed, #4 Marquette if they’re the #12 seed. The Irish will be out for revenge no matter what: they lost five games to those four teams by a total of 17 points in a total of four overtimes.
Cal 71, USC 60: Cal stays alive, but squarely on the NCAA bubble. Any good news for other bubble teams around the country between now and Selection Sunday is bad news for the Bears. A win or two in the Pac-10 tourney would be extremely helpful. USC, meanwhile, lost 3 of its last 4 after the big win over UCLA, and may now need to reach the Pac-10 title game just to qualify for the NIT. The Trojans’ first-round opponent in the conference tourney? Cal. Heh. Rematch City! It’s aweome, baby! … or not.
UCLA 75, Stanford 54: A bubble bursts. See you in the NIT, drunken Tree.
North Carolina 83, Duke 76: Adam Morrison doesn’t return to the hardwood until tonight (WCC semis), but through the efforts of his alter ego Tyler Hansbrough, he may have wrapped up National Player of the Year tonight as the Tar Heels handed #1 Duke and struggling superstar J.J. Redick a rare second consecutive loss. It was Senior Night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, televised live on approximately 863 ESPN channels simultaneously — perhaps the most-hyped college rivalry game since USC-Notre Dame on October 15 — but Redick, a senior, played like crap, shooting 5-of-21 for 18 points in his fourth consecutive subpar game. Can I admit the unthinkable, unmentionable, un-American truth that I kinda feel bad for the kid, and was kinda rooting for Duke at the end there, when they almost came back? Thank goodness it was only “kinda,” or I might have to question the very meaning of life, the existence of God, etc. Duke sucks. :)
UConn 84, Louisville 80: Huskies have a rather better Senior Night than Duke, clinching a share of the Big East regular-season title and positioning themselves to reclaim the #1-in-the-polls hot potato.
Indiana 69, Michigan 67: The Hoosiers are the latest bubble team to play their way in, probably. So much for the “soft bubble.”
Cincinnati 78, West Virginia 75: Another big win for a bubble team. Bearcats are in.
Air Force 63, Colorado State 59: And another big bubbly win.
Texas A&M 75, Texas Tech 59: And another, avoiding letdown after huge upset “statement game.”
UAB 82, Marshall 61: See above.
George Washington 86, Charlotte 85 (OT): The Colonials wrap up what a SportsCenter host called “George Washington’s best season since 1789,” finishing undefeated in the Atlantic 10 regular season after an absolutely wild, crazy-ass ending that you really need to see to believe.
Non-MVC games of interest tomorrow:
Villanova at Syracuse, 12pm: Can the Orange erase the ugly, ugly, ugly memory of that 8,000-point loss at DePaul by becoming the latest bubble team to knock off a contender for a #1 seed? Mid-majors from coast to coast certainly hope not.
American at Bucknell, 1pm: Every bubble team in the country will be rooting for Bucknell in this Patriot League semifinal.
Monmouth at Central Connecticut State, 1pm: Northeast Conference semifinal. Can the #2-seeded Blue Devils move one step closer to the Dance? GO CCSU!!!!!!!!!!!
Florida State at Miami, 1pm: Can the ‘Noles follow in Texas Tech’s and UAB’s footsteps, avoid a post-Duke letdown and prove their “statement” win wasn’t a fluke? The bubble isn’t “soft” anymore, so FSU needs to keep winning.
Chattanooga vs. Davidson, 2pm: Southern Conference championship game. Winner gets an at-large bid and a #16 seed, quite probably in the play-in game. (The Southern Conference is terrible.)
Rutgers at St. John’s, 2pm: Winner goes to the Big East tournament, loser doesn’t. Also, as mentioned above, this game will determine Notre Dame’s seed. If St. John’s wins, ND is the #11 seed, with Pittsburgh and perhaps West Virginia as their tourney opponents. If Rutgers wins, ND is #12, and they get Georgetown and then maybe Marquette. Not sure it really makes much difference. The Irish are capable of beating, or losing to, anybody.
San Diego at Gonzaga, 8pm: WCC semis, at the Zags’ home court, where they’ve never lost. Much like with Bucknell, every bubble team in America will be rooting for Gonzaga. Also, this is Adam Morrison’s big chance to answer J.J. Redick’s lackluster performance by shooting the lights out. (Even bigger chance Monday in the title game, if the Zags win tonight.)
Southern Illinois 55, Northern Iowa 46 in overtime. Tomorrow: SIU vs. Bradley for the championship and automatic NCAA bid (although both are probably going dancing regardless… probably).
Another high scoring MVC game: 40 to 40, going to overtime!
YAY!!! NOTRE DAME WINS!!! They just beat DePaul, 66-61. ND goes to the Big East tournament, and is a mere four game miracle run away from the Big Dance. :) Woohoo! (Mike Brey still sucks.) … Here in
St. Louis, it is Salukis 20, Panthers 20 at halftime.
BRADLEY WINS!!! Braves 60, Shockers 52, final. If there is any justice in the world, Bradley has an NCAA bid wrapped up now. Tomorrow they will play in the title game against the winner of the next
game: UNI vs. SIU. Go Panthers!
Bradley is ridiculously ice cold *again* (!) and Wichita State (also playing like crap) leads at the half, 24 to 22. Bah. Where have you gone, MVC?
Above: An MVC fan pleads his case to the selection committee. Below: A wide view of the multicolored crowd (yellow for Wichita State, blue for Creighton, bright red for Bradley, dark red for Southern Illinois and Missouri State) during the first quarterfinal session.
As we engaged in a daylong marathon of basketball-watching at the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis on Friday, Becky and I were witnessing an historic moment in mid-major college basketball:
This might have been the Valley’s biggest day since Larry Bird hung up his Sycamore shorts for the last time in 1979. Four games, all with NCAA Tournament implications. Six teams, all entering play with legitimate NCAA at-large hopes. No alleged mid-major conference has ever had a day like this, with bids on the line from noon ’til midnight.
Kyle Whelliston, who helped convince me to come to this tournament, agrees that it is huge:
There’s no question that the Missouri Valley’s “Arch Madness” in St. Louis will provide the most highly-anticipated [conference tournament] results of the weekend — very few tourneys at any D-I level will have as much impact on the final NCAA bracket. Consider all the potential at-large bids at stake. Two? Three? Four or five!? Most likely one of the first couple of numbers, but it will be a matter of how the Arch Madness bracket plays out.
And we’ll be able to say that we were there. :)
Alas, truth be told, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the MVC’s greatest day in terms of the quality of play — particularly the quality of the offenses. Wichita State came out flat and sleepwalked through the first 30 minutes or so, before finally putting away Indiana State, 81-63 (it was 30-24 at halftime). Neither Bradley nor Creighton could hit the broad side of a barn (shooting 31.7% and 30.0%, respectively), but Bradley pulled it out, 54-47 — the Braves’ lowest offensive output of the season, in a win or a loss (!). Southern Illinois had trouble closing the deal against an inferior Evansville team, letting the pesky Aces hang around far too long before ultimately winning, 71-55. And then in the nightcap, the Valley’s hottest team over the last month, Missouri State, went ice-cold, shooting 28.8% en route to a 57-42 loss to Northern Iowa — the team which, IMHO, looked the best of the eight squads in action (their low point total was due mostly to good Missouri State defense in the first half and a slow-it-down, run-the-clock strategy in the latter part of the second half).
Total points scored: 470, an average of 58.75 per team. Composite shooting percentage: 37.2% (156 of 419). Whether the MVC gets three, four, five or six NCAA bids, they won’t get a single NCAA win playing like that.
But of course, it’s clear that these teams usually don’t play like that; the scores of their previous games are enough to demonstrate that. So perhaps it’s something in the St. Louis water, or that flu bug going around. Or maybe the players are all really concerned about the U.A.E. ports deal and the U.S.-India nuclear pact, and thus can’t focus on their games. :) Regardless of the reason, I hope the semifinalists take it up a notch tomorrow. I came to St. Louis already a Valley believer, and remain so; but Becky came here a Valley agnostic, and after a day, I think it would be fair to count her a skeptic. A couple of well-played semifinals would change all that.
(Becky and I are both, it should be noted, having a great time. I daresay Becky is rarely happier than when she’s nitpicking teams’ basketball flaws. Heh.)
Looking past the poor shooting — which can be such ephemeral thing — I thought Bradley looked pretty good (I like their aggressive guard play, their quick passes and their shot selection, even if they weren’t hitting those shots in this instance), and as I mentioned before, Northern Iowa looked good, too. Not great, but good. I’ll definitely give both the Braves and the Panthers some serious consideration as potential upset picks if they make the NCAAs. (The jury is still out on Wichita State and Southern Illinois, whom I haven’t seen play anybody good yet — a problem that will soon be remedied.)
Speaking of Northern Iowa, here’s a picture I got of UNI’s Brooks McKowen nailing a 3:
More pictures to come in an eventual full photo gallery of our weekend here.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how the heck I took the action shot below with my cell phone… I didn’t. I took it with my digital camera using a telephoto lens, and then I downloaded it to my computer once we were back in the car, and took a picture with my cell phone of the photo on my computer screen. :) Here’s the original.
P.S. Oh, I almost forgot to mention… my bracket is looking pretty good. :) Go Bradley & UNI!!!
Northern Iowa wins, 57 to 42. W00t! My bracket was perfect today! :) Tomorrow: #1 Wichita State vs. #5 Bradley and #2 Southern Illinois vs. #6 Northern Iowa. Go Braves and Panthers! :) Now we are en route to cousin Lisa`s house.
Here I am with isuquinndog (a.k.a. Mike). … Anyway, Southern Illinois 71, Evansville 55, final. Up next: a bubbleicious battle between Missouri State and Northern Iowa.
Looking up at the Arch.
Bradley wins! 54 to 47 was the final in a game where the offenses looked much better than the score would indicate, IMHO; the execution was pretty good, the shooting was just ice cold. Anyway, Bradley vs. Wichita tomorrow. Up next: SIU vs. Evansville.
Wichita State wins the opener, 81 to 63. Indiana State kept it close for a while, but then the Shockers woke up. Up next: Creighton vs. Bradley. GO BRAVES!!!