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Missouri Valley Conference Tourney Preview

   by Al McMordie - 02/28/2004

With tourney time on the horizon, let’s focus on one of the smaller conferences. Here’s a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the best teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, which begins conference play this week. The MVC is a 10-team league, with the top six teams getting a bye in the opening round of the Tourney, which begins Friday at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Southern Illinois:
It’s been the year of the Salukis (24-2) from start to finish. They roared through the MVC, starting 17-0 straight up and 12-5 against the spread! They stuck it to rival Creighton, too, winning 61-60 at Creighton as a dog and then again at home in the rematch, 68-60. Southern Illinois has a dynamite guard in junior Darren Brooks (16.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and a strong frontcourt with 6-9 senior Brad Korn and 6-7 senior Sylvester Willis. SIU is second in scoring defense in the MVC, allowing 61 points per game, and went a remarkable 12-1 straight up and 9-2 against the spread on the road! They will be the favorites to roll through the MVC tourney, which is what they did during the regular season.

Creighton:
It might not have been the Blue Jays year to win the MVC regular season title, but this is still an outstanding team. It’s always nice to have big guys up front, and the Blue Jays do, with three strong seniors in 6-8 Brody Deren, 6-10 Joe Dabbert and 6-7 Mike Grimes. Creighton is No. 1 in scoring defense (60 ppg allowed), third in field goals allowed (42% shooting) and third in rebounds. Offensively, the Blue Jays are second in shooting (46% from the field) and second in three point shooting (38%). A key to the season has been the loss of guard Tyler McKinney, who was lost halfway through the season with an eye injury. Creighton’s slump started with his loss. They couldn’t beat Southern Illinois, but they beat just about everyone else in the MVC. And with that frontcourt, they will be a formidable foe in the tourney and would love one more crack at SIU.

Wichita State:
This is a very strong team. Wichita State is tops defensively in the Missouri Valley Conference, holding opponents to just under 40% shooting. They are also first in rebounding (38 boards per game) behind a solid frontcourt of junior Rob Kampman and 6-10, 250-lb sophomore center Paul Miller. And they’re terrific offensively, too, finishing first in the MVC in scoring (72.8 ppg), shooting (47%) and three-point shooting (38%), led by guard Randy Burns and Jamar Howard. Wichita has been playing great ball down the stretch, too, recently riding a 10-2 SU/9-3 ATS run. Just as impressive is that Wichita has gone 8-4 SU/8-3 ATS on the road! In fact, they outscore opponents by a 71-63 average on the road. They lost twice to Southern Illinois, 84-79 and 73-64, but went 11-6 straight up and against the spread in MVC games. If you’re looking for a dark horse, this will be a team to keep an eye on in the tourney.

Northern Iowa:
The Northern Iowa Panthers get great play from a strong front line, anchored by 6-6 senior center David Gruber and 6-7, 240-lb workhorse senior Matt Schneiderman. Northern Iowa is not a stellar defensive team, and they are best when the offense is clicking. The Panthers were second in the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring (70 ppg), but they have not been strong on the road. They give up 68 ppg on the road where they went 5-6 straight up, though 7-4 against the spread. They had back to back road games against Southern Illinois and Creighton and scored 47 and 53 points (both defeats). N-Iowa also led the MVC in free throws (73%), which is always a key in close games.

Southwest Missouri State:
The Bears won with defense this season, allowing 41% shooting, second best in the MVC, while giving up 62 ppg. Like several teams in the conference, the SW Missouri State Bears had a strong season because of its frontcourt of 6-7 senior Monwell Randle and 6’-7â€쳌, 240-lb junior Tamarr Maclin. They were second in the MVC in rebounds, with 36 boards per game. The only concern, which could hurt them in the tourney, is that the Bears are 4-7 straight up on the road where they got outscored by a 65-62 average.

Bradley:
The Bradley Braves came on strong the last month because of health. They stumbled badly in mid-season because of the loss of leading scorer guard Phil Gilbert with a foot injury. But he has since returned and his presence opens up the offense. Bradley has outstanding guard play with Gilbert and James Gillingham, while 6-7 sophomore Marcellus Sommerville (16 ppg, 7 rpg) has been a big plus under the boards. The trio makes this team competitive. With Gilbert back, Bradley had a 6-3 SU/7-2 ATS run down the stretch. They are 17-9 against the spread, with a winning ATS mark both home and on the road. One concern is that they went 4-10 straight up on the road giving up 72 ppg.

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