The Haskell Indian Leader Sports Staff of Sports Reporters Tyler Jones, Charlie Perry and Photojournalist Reid Williams, will be in St. Louis, Missouri this week to cover the 2015 Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Indian Leader will not only provide exclusive content of the tournament, but also all-access coverage of Wichita State Guard Ron Baker (Citizen Band Potawatomi) Here’s what to expect…
By Tyler Jones @TylerJonesLive
1. General Information
The Missouri Valley has went from being viewed as a small conference to one of the nation’s elite. In this year’s tournament, the league will feature two teams in the AP Top 15 Poll, Wichita State and Northern Iowa. The conference tournament features eight teams and stretches over four days, Thursday-Sunday.
For the 10th consecutive year, the tournament will be held at the Scottrade Center and for the 15th consecutive year, the tournament will be in St. Louis. First round, quarterfinals and semifinal games will be seen live on various regional sports networks and local TV affiliates across the Midwest, via Missouri Valley TV. The championship game will be Sunday, March 8 at 1pm CT on CBS.
According to Vegas*, Wichita State (27-3, 17-1 MVC) is the favorite to win the tournament at 53% odds. The Shockers are not only the defending conference tournament champions, but also won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship this season. Wichita State clinched the regular season title last Saturday with a win at home over Northern Iowa (2/28/15 Wichita State W 74-60).
This year could be different though as the Shockers have a true challenger in Northern Iowa (27-3, 16-2 MVC). Northern Iowa has not won the tournament championship since 2010, but did beat every team at least once in the Missouri Valley in 2015, including Wichita State (1/31/15 Northern Iowa W 70-54). Vegas odds project that Northern Iowa has a 35% chance of winning the tournament and a 79% chance of going to the conference championship game.
3. Dark Horses
Although Wichita State and Northern Iowa have dominated the regular season, there are teams in this tournament that could possibly play spoiler. Indiana State, Illinois State and Evansville are the three, four and five seeds in the tournament.
Indiana State won the conference tournament in 2011, defeating top seed Missouri State that year. Illinois State in two meetings with Wichita State lost by six (2/14/15 Wichita State L 62-68) and eight (1/4/15 L Wichita State 62-70) points total this year. For the Purple Aces of Evansville, they managed nine wins in the MVC this year, including a win against Northern Iowa (1/1/15 Northern Iowa W 52-49).
4. Players to Watch
Wichita State is led by Guard Ron Baker, who was recently named as a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Award. This season, Baker has led Wichita State in scoring with 15.2 PPG and shot 41% from three-point range. Evansville’s D.J. Balentine leads the MVC in scoring with 19 PPG and had a season-high 32 points earlier this year against Coppin State. For Northern Iowa, they’re led by Senior Seth Tuttle. Tuttle has averaged 15.6 PPG this season and has shot an impressive 63% from field-goal range. Tuttle was also named to the Naismith Mid-Season Award Watch last month.
As Wichita State and Northern Iowa clearly stand out as the league favorites, it would be surprising to not see them go head-to-head for a third time this year in the championship game. Both teams have combined for just three losses in the MVC and only one loss outside of playing each other. After last week’s performance, it looks like Wichita State is better at this time of the year and should win the tournament. With a neutral-site location though, it should make for a very close game.
Lots of talent is in this league, but one player stands out from the rest. Expect Ron Baker to be named MVC Tournament MVP. He’s carried his team to nine straight conference wins going into the tourney and should carry his team to a conference championship.