Are you ready for Arch Madness? Crazy things can happen in St. Louis at the Enterprise Center because this conference annually boasts one of the biggest home/road dichotomies. The best offensive team in the conference is the #1 seed and the best defensive team in the conference is the #2 seed. Are they on a crash course to meet in the finals or will we run into some shenanigans in St. Louis?
There are a ton of wrinkles to this conference tournament. For one thing, nobody gets a double bye. The bottom four teams are required to play in the first round, but then everybody is in action for the quarterfinals and beyond. That means that the team that wins this is forced to win three games in three days, if not more, in the cases of Drake, Illinois State, Valparaiso, and Evansville.
All 10 teams qualify for this conference tournament and generally a lot of the teams in the middle of this league are quite interchangeable. Bradley won last year as the #5 seed. We all remember Loyola Chicago’s 2018 run that started in the conference tournament and ended in the Final Four.
Let’s see what we get this year.
Here are the teams, seeds, and the odds from BetOnline Sportsbook for the 2020 MVC Tournament:
- Northern Iowa 25-5 (14-4) -110
- Loyola Chicago 21-10 (13-5) +300
- Indiana State 18-11 (11-7) (Net Rtg tiebreaker) +750
- Bradley 20-11 (11-7) +500
- Southern Illinois 16-15 (10-8) +3300
- Missouri State 15-16 (9-9) (Net Rtg) +800
- Valparaiso 16-15 (9-9) +2500
- Drake 18-13 (8-10) +3300
- Illinois State 10-20 (5-13) +10000
- Evansville 9-22 (0-18) +30000
Northern Iowa has five losses on the season by 25 combined points. Four came in conference play and the biggest losing margin was 9 in an overtime game at Loyola Chicago. Otherwise, the Panthers have been quite good over the course of the year. Both games against the Ramblers went to overtime.
Loyola Chicago actually has some much uglier losses compared to Northern Iowa. The Ramblers lost by double digits twice and all five of their losses came on the road. All four of NIU’s losses came on the road. This is a home-dominated conference. The playing field is leveled here because nobody is at home.
There are some interesting teams in the middle tier. Southern Illinois owns one of the four wins over NIU. Indiana State has another one. So, too, does Illinois State, but that wasn’t a springboard for anything.
Here is the schedule for Arch Madness 2020:
Thursday March 5
6:05 p.m. CT: 9 Illinois State vs. 8 Drake
8:35 p.m. CT: 10 Evansville vs. 7 Valparaiso
Friday March 6
12:05 p.m. CT: 9/8 winner vs. 1 Northern Iowa
2:35 p.m. CT: 5 Southern Illinois vs. 4 Bradley
6:05 p.m. CT: 10/7 winner vs. 2 Loyola Chicago
8:35 p.m. CT: 6 Missouri State vs. 3 Indiana State
Saturday March 7
2:35 p.m. CT: 9/8/1 winner vs. 5/4 winner
5:05 p.m. CT: 10/7/2 winner vs. 6/3 winner
Sunday March 8
1:05 p.m. CT: Championship Game
This is one of the conference tournaments with a quirky schedule that creates a lot of situational spots. The team that wins early on Friday gets extra rest over the team that wins late. The same applies to the later game on Saturday as well. Northern Iowa and Loyola Chicago have a built-in advantage. That is especially true for the Ramblers, who will be in their hotel rooms by 9 on Friday while Missouri State and Indiana State play until close to 11.
The early start to the championship game also favors the winner in the early game, which is likely to be Northern Iowa. The Panthers get a big boost in the first round with a very early turnaround for the Illinois State vs. Drake winner.
As far as how these teams stack up, Northern Iowa is the best offensive team in a conference dominated by defense. This is a conference that lacks athleticism, as evidenced by the low offensive rebounding rates. This is also the second-slowest conference in college basketball by tempo.
Northern Iowa has the best offense by eFG% and even seventh nationally. Loyola Chicago has the second-best and ranks ninth. Indiana State and Bradley take excellent care of the basketball to enhance their offensive numbers. Bradley is the second-best three-point shooting team in the conference.
If you like defense, you like Southern Illinois, who can’t score, but defends the three-point line really well. Indiana State is actually a pretty balanced team that also defends the three-point line well. It certainly looks like the top two seeds will manage to have their hands full here.
Northern Iowa is the only team in the field right now, but we’ll have to see if they are worthy of an at-large berth if they don’t escape St. Louis with a net that has been cut down. Their path is not all that easy. Bradley is a different team with Elijah Childs, if the Braves get past Southern Illinois. If they don’t, then the path is a lot easier for UNI than it is for Loyola Chicago.
The +500 on Bradley is not nearly good enough to consider, but a money line rollover would be, as the Braves would be underdogs to both UNI and Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers have the star power and would not be +300 if they got to the finals, so if you think the Ramblers can beat both Valpo and the winner of that 6/3 game with relative ease, then +300 has to be the play here.
I still think UNI wins the conference tournament, but the price isn’t good enough.
Pick: Loyola Chicago +300