As we approach the first weekend in March, A.K.A. Arch Madness, it seems as if the Missouri Valley Conference Championship will come down two teams; the Wichita State Shockers and the Illinois State Redbirds. The Shockers an impressive 25-4 on the year, with two games remaining and their counterpart, the Redbirds are 23-5. Both are currently 15-1 in conference play, with each losing to the other at home earlier in the season.
Wichita State has made it to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2012. They’re looking to improve that streak to six straight seasons. Despite making the tourney each of the last five years, the Shockers have only won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament once in that span. This year, the Shockers lack quality wins. Outside of defeating then-undefeated in conference Illinois State by over 40 points, the Shockers couldn’t come up with a big win.
Against teams like Louisville and Michigan State, the Shockers couldn’t overcome large deficits and fell to each respective team. But now the Shockers have a new favor in their corner. As of today, Wichita State is ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, at number #25. A ranked team has not missed the NCAA Tournament since 2004, when #25 Utah State was left out. If WSU is unable to win at Arch Madness, they might have a chance at an at-large bid. Wichita State has two games left, at home against Evansville and on the road against Missouri State.
Illinois State will likely have to oust the Shockers in Arch Madness to secure a tournament bid. Just as the Shockers, the Redbirds lack quality wins. Some of ISU losses are some ugly blemishes too, including losses to Tulsa, San Francisco, and Murray State. The Redbirds haven’t seen the likes of the NCAA Tournament since 1998. But a solid core of upperclassmen could help lead the Redbirds back to the promised land; but they will likely have to win the MVC Tournament to get the automatic bid or it’ll be NIT for the Birds. Illinois State has two games left, at home against Southern Illinois and on the road against Northern Iowa.
But there is one team that can’t be counted out just yet. That would be Northern Iowa. The Panthers have had a lackluster year, going 14-13 (9-7), good for third place right now in the Valley. UNI has won each of the last two Valley tournaments, both of which they were not the top seed of. Last year, they were the fourth seed and made it all the way to the championship, beating Evansville on a buzzer beater by Wes Washpun.
Arch Madness is always a fun time for St. Louis. There’s a bunch of close, intense games that get to settle who out of the Missouri Valley Conference will be heading to the NCAA Tournament. If you haven’t been to a Valley tournament game before, I highly recommend you go. I have been going since I was a little boy and it’s a blast every year. View tournament information here:
Happy Arch Madness!