No. 16: Peak Is Over For The Valley
No conference was more difficult to figure out as the season went on last year than the MVC. At one point in late January, five (yeah, five) teams from the Valley made one of our brackets (Southern Illinois, Crieghton, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, and Indiana State). There was so much parody in the league midway through last season, that it was impossible to predict who would be standing come March. Eventually, though, the picture got a lot clearer: Indiana State lost 14 of its last 16 games, Northern Iowa faded fast after its 13-2 start, and Missouri State lost its Bracket Buster game to Winthrop before getting crushed by Creighton in the MVC tournament.
As it turned out, only two Valley teams – the Salukis and the Arch Madness-winning Bluejays – made the Final Field of 65. Missouri State, for what seems like the millionth straight year, was one of the tougher calls come Selection Sunday, but ultimately was on our Next Four Out list and missed the dance.
This year, as another season begins, the Valley is again one of the most dangerous and most unpredictable mid-major leagues in the country. That doesn’t mean, however, that the league will produce the quality of teams it has in previous years. Five head coaches and a lot of talented seniors have moved on, and besides favorite Southern Illinois, the league is a giant question mark.
Over the course of this year, you can expect lots of fluidity in the MVC, but in the end, we believe that the league is strong enough and has a good enough reputation (three Sweet 16 teams in the last two years) to earn multiple bids. The league’s unpredictability could be beneficial come conference tourney time, if someone can find a way to knock off the Salukis and earn the automatic bid.
With all that said, our Bold Prediction No. 16 is that the Valley takes a few steps back this season (no Field of 65 with four and five teams in it), but ultimately ends up with two teams dancing: Southern Illinois as a 5 and Bradley, thanks to some talented juco transfers and a senior backcourt, as an automatic bid-stealing 12.