Mo Valley-Colonial Previews



The Missouri Valley Conference, whose tournament gets under way this evening in St. Louis, and the Colonial conference, whose tournament starts at early Friday (first game at noon ET) have a storied history in the Big Dance.

The only recent mid major to crack the Final Four was George Mason, who came from the Colonial. The Missouri Valley didn't quite make it that far, but has sent several different teams as far as the Sweet 16 in relatively recent memory. In fact, George Mason of the Colonial beat Wichita State of the Missouri Valley in the Sweet 16 to set up that memorable Elite Eight round upset of powerful UCONN.

It's easy for handicappers to link these two leagues together. Many have done so again this regular season champions Northern Iowa and Old Dominion are picked by many as serious threats to knock off a big name opponent in the Dance. Both are assumed to be locks for at-large bids if they don't win these tourneys. ESPN's "bracketology" currently has Northern Iowa as a 9th seed, Old Dominion as a 10th seed. Unfortunately for the conferences, "bracketology" doesn't have anyone else qualifying right now. Outsiders will have to win their tourneys to get in.

We've put together brief previews for you in both of these conferences today in the NOTEBOOK. We'll move on to the Southern, Metro Atlantic, and West Coast conferences tomorrow (those all tip off Friday). Saturday we'll preview the Sun Belt and Big Sky tournaments that get under way that day. The MAC begins Sunday...there are very few rest breaks once March begins! All the other tourneys begin next week...and you can expect SPOTLIGHT coverage in each and every board league in timely fashion.

We start today with the Missouri Valley, because that opening round goes TONIGHT with the bottom four teams playing for the right to lose to a league power on Friday.

Thursday's Schedule:
(8) Drake vs. (9) Southern Illinois
(7) Missouri State vs. (10) Evansville

We'll run our 2-point defense indicator numbers for everyone. But, we wanted to set this group apart because it's likely to disappear quickly.

Missouri State 47%
Southern Illinois 49%
Evansville 50%
Drake 52%

The seventh seed is the best of the group, and is really the only team with a shot to pull an upset in the second round. Note that Missouri State went 8-10 in conference play this year, which is actually a very good record for a 7th seed. A lot of parity in the middle of the pack this year. Let's devote the rest of our time to that pack!

Northern Iowa 45% (1 seed)
Wichita State 46% (2 seed)
Indiana State 46% (6 seed)
Illinois State 47% (3 seed)
Creighton 47% (4 seed)
Bradley 49% (5 seed)

The brackets shape up very well for Northern Iowa to keep advancing. They play the winner of the 8-9 game in the first round (two crappy defenses), then would advance to play the winner of the 4-5 game in the semifinals (the worst two teams of the top six). There are no sure things in sports, particularly in THIS tournament. Northern could be flat as a pancake if they read too many press clippings about their lock status. If they're not flat...they'll have a relatively easy path to the finals.

The other half of the bracket will spit out a real upset threat in the championship game. They're all so bunched together defensively (including Missouri State if they survive tonight) that we'll have to go well beyond two-point defense to make a selection.

(1) Northern Iowa vs. Drake/Southern Illinois winner
(4) Creighton vs. Bradley

(2) Wichita State vs. Missouri State/Evansville winner
(3) Illinois State vs. (6) Indiana State

Should be another exciting edition of "Arch Madness" in St. Louis! And, we'll definitely be eyeing whoever makes the Dance from this league in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Moving to the Colonial...

There are 12 teams battling in Richmond, with the top four teams in the standings getting byes into Saturday's quarterfinals. The other eight play Friday (with an early tip in the first game) in hopes of joining them.

Let's present the two-point defense numbers in bracket order so you can get a sense of the matchups. Here are the four quadrants of the Colonial brackets. The top two teams in each hunk play each other Friday...with the winner advancing to face the superior seed Saturday. Then, obviously, the winners of each hunk advance to the semifinals.

(8) Towson 52%
(9) NC Wilmington 48%
(1) Old Dominion 45%

Old Dominion is the class of this hunk, as you would expect from the top seed. They really don't great out as a superpower though in this key indicator stat of ours. Like Northern Iowa, they sit at 45% vs. a schedule that isn't particularly challenging. It's good enough to be best in a mid-major...and good enough to be a darkhorse threat to score an upset in the Dance...but it's probably not good enough to make any sort of historic run in the Dance. And, the margin of error is pretty tight in the conference tournament if they don't bring peak intensity every game.

(5) Virginia Commonwealth 47%
(12) Delaware 50%
(4) George Mason 46%

Both VCU and George Mason have nice Dance histories. VCU knocked off Duke not too long ago. Either is capable of taking out Old Dominion in the semifinals. We may well look at an upset call there if we hear the right things from our sources. Note that VCU is located in host city Richmond, but doesn't play its home games on this floor.

(7) Hofstra 44%
(10) Georgia State 48%
(2) Northeastern 44%

There's a lot to like about Northeastern. They actually grade out better than Old Dominion defensively (as does Hofstra for that matter). The league is hoping for an ODU/Northeastern final. That would be a war. Northeastern better not look past Hofstra though.

(6) Drexel 44%
(11) James Madison 46%
(3) William & Mary 46%

Some avid hoops followers are picking Bill and Mary as a darkhorse in this event. Hey, anything can happen. We prefer tying our best calls to defensive quality, and that squad just doesn't quite measure up to the teams in front of them. They'll have a worse defense than Drexel in the quarters if form holds.

We know that most of you are more interested in the marquee TV leagues like the ACC, Big East, and Big Ten. Just be aware that some very high quality basketball will be played this weekend in both the Missouri Valley and Colonial tournaments. The Final Fours of both will be VERY intense because everyone besides Northern Iowa and Old Dominion knows they HAVE to win the tourney to go to the Big Dance. Quality teams with something to play doesn't get any better than that in this sport.

We can never know for sure ahead of time how involved JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be in a mid-major tournament. Some years, our on site sources uncover gems that allow us to ride a hot team and string together 2-3 wins in a row with them. In other seasons, the best information is coming in from the regular card. Maybe a Pac 10 Game of the Year, or an Ivy League Game of the Year will overshadow early round action. Saturday's schedule is loaded...meaning something like West Virginia/Villanova, Kansas/Missouri, or North Carolina/Duke could grab the focus of our attention instead. We'll just have to play it by ear.

You can have complete confidence that if a big edge avails itself in either of these events, NETWORK CLIENTS WILL BE ALL OVER IT!

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We hope you're as excited as we are about THE MOST EXCITING LEGAL WAGERING MONTH IN ALL OF SPORTS!


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