Tuesday , Feb , 28 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: Savvis Center (20,000) — St. Louis, Missouri
Dates: March 2-5. Television: FSN Midwest, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, CBS
(Championship Game). Annual: 30th. Defending Champion: Creighton.

OUTLOOK: For the first time in five years, the Southern Illinois Salukis won’t
be the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, as the Wichita
State Shockers grabbed top honors with a 14-4 league mark. While the Salukis
didn’t earn the top seed, they didn’t exactly slip far, as they were awarded
the No. 2 seed thanks to a 46-45 win over Northern Iowa in their regular
season finale. Missouri State and defending champion Creighton finished in a
tie with SIU for second place at 12-6, and were awarded the third and fourth
seeds, respectively, due to the tie-breaker scenario. With solid play down the
stretch, Bradley pulled into a fifth-place tie with Northern Iowa, and landed
the fifth seed thanks to a pair of regular season wins over the Panthers. UNI,
which found itself among the nationally-ranked at times during the season,
struggled down the stretch and landed the sixth seed as a result of its 11-7
league mark. Evansville and Drake each finished at 5-13 in MVC play and were
given the seventh and eight seeds, respectively. They will be forced to play
first round games along with ninth-seeded Indiana State and 10th-seeded
Illinois State, each of which finished at the bottom of the league standings
at 4-14. The winner of this event receives an automatic bid into the NCAA

With wins in four its final five games, Wichita State captured its first
regular season title since 1983 and in the process earned its first number one
seed since 1981 (The Shockers were on NCAA probation in 1983 and did not
compete in the league tournament). The Shockers also finished with the MVC’s
top overall record at 23-7, making their third straight 20-plus win season.
Wichita State will open tournament play in the quarterfinal round on Friday
against the winner of the Indiana State/Drake matchup.

The second-seeded Salukis also earned a first-round bye along with the
Shockers and will take on either Illinois State or Evansville in the
quarterfinals on Friday. Southern Illinois had been the top seed in each of
the past four MVC Tournaments, although it failed to win any of them. The
Salukis, who are one victory away from another 20-win season, haven’t won a
conference tournament title since 1995.

The MVC Tournament kicks off on Thursday, when the eighth-seeded Drake
Bulldogs hooks up with the ninth-seeded Indiana State Sycamores. Drake has
never won a MVC Tournament championship and is just 10-27 all-time in this
event. The Bulldogs also come into the postseason on the decline, having
dropped their last five outings and 10 of 11 overall. As for Indiana State, it
has won two tournament championships, with its last coming in 2001. The
Sycamores, however, boast a MVC postseason record of just 14-23 all-time.

The second and final game on Thursday pits seventh-seeded Evansville against
10th-seeded Illinois State. The Purple Aces enter the tournament with a modest
two-game win streak, although they have gone just 3-11 all-time in this event.
The Redbirds used to be one of the top programs in the MVC, but have fallen on
hard times since posting back-to-back tournament titles in 1997-98.

One of the two quarterfinal matchups that are already set feature the fourth-
seeded and defending champion Creighton Bluejays and the fifth-seeded Bradley
Braves. The Bluejays have owned this tournament of late, winning three of the
past four titles and five of the last seven overall. Last season, as the No. 3
seed, Creighton held off fifth-seeded Missouri State, 75-57, to claim its
record ninth MVC Tournament title. As for the Braves, they own a 23-34 record
in this event and have won two championships, but haven’t done so since 1988.
Bradley, however, comes into the postseason red-hot, winning its last five
games and nine of 11 overall.

The other quarterfinal bout is a rematch of the 2004 title game between the
third-seeded Missouri State Bears and sixth-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers. The
Bears have reached the finals the past two seasons, but have fallen in both,
including a 79-74 setback in double-overtime to Northern Iowa in 2004. Still,
Missouri State, which is 21-14 all-time in this tournament, closed out the
2005-06 regular season with five consecutive wins and eight of nine overall.
The Panthers, on the other hand, appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament
regardless of the outcome of this tournament, but that has all changed with
losses in four of their last five games. UNI, which won its lone title in
2004, was the preseason favorite to win the MVC and backed that claim for most
of the year before falling on hard times down the stretch.

In terms of the history of this tournament, Creighton has won nine titles,
which is more than twice as many as any other current member of the league.
Southern Illinois checks in with four crowns, with its most recent coming in
1995. Illinois State has also notched four championships, including back-to-
back titles in 1997-98. Bradley, Wichita State and Indiana State each have two
tournament titles to their credit, while Missouri State picked up its only
title back in 1992. Northern Iowa won its lone championship in 2004, but still
has the second fewest wins in the MVC Tournament of any current league member
with only eight. Drake has posted a dismal 10-27 record in the conferences
tournament and like Evansville, has never won this event.

This is about as strong as the MVC has been in recent memory, as the top six
teams all have a legitimate shot at winning the tournament title. Missouri
State has really come on of late and the Bears have alot to prove after losing
in the championship game in each of the past two seasons.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Missouri State