Missouri Valley Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

MISSOURI STATE, WICHITA STATE THE CLASS OF THE MISSOURI VALLEY

Our postseason tournament previews continue today with a look at the Missouri Valley Conference. Play begins Thursday Night when seeds #7 through #10 square off to see who gets to join the eight-team quarterfinal round that begins Friday afternoon.

On Thursday here in the NOTEBOOK we'll look at the Colonial Conference tournament that begins very early in the day Friday. We're trying to give some advance handicapping time for you this week and next so you don't have to get up with the roosters to get key numbers for games that are about to start! Friday we'll look at the West Coast conference that gets under way late in the evening East Coast time out in Las Vegas.

Here's the Missouri Valley tournament schedule:

THURSDAY
Southern Illinois (8) vs. Illinois State (9)
Drake (7) vs. Bradley (10)

FRIDAY
Missouri State (1) vs. 8-9 winner
Northern Iowa (4) vs. Creighton (5)
Wichita State (2) vs. 7-10 winner
Indiana State (3) vs. Evansville (6)

They'll follow the logical bracket order for Saturday's semifinals and Sunday's finals.

Moving to the numbers...for this week's conferences, and the major tournaments next week, we'll be focusing on:

  • Conference Margin Averages: virtual point differential Power Ratings in a confined schedule.
  • Two-Point Defenses: our favorite indicator stat in the colleges because it tells you so much about team quality, team priorities, head coaching, and the ability to impose your will in playoff style basketball.
  • Adjusted Pace: because basketball slows down in a playoff environment, and teams used to playing at a patient, methodical pace often have an advantage because the style is right in their comfort zone.
  • Three-Point Reliance: because teams who live by the three usually die by the three in the postseason. Maybe a team will get hot for one game. Tough to string together hot shooting efforts in a high pressure environment. If you know who relies heavily on treys, you can zig and zag the minefield a little more intelligently.

Note that most of the stats you'll see this week and next come from Ken Pomeroy's amazing college basketball site (kenpom.com).

The Missouri Valley right now has only one team that's a lock for the Big Dance. That's the tournament champion! Top tourney seed Missouri State is only slotted on the #12 line right now in ESPN's Bracketology. Second tourney seed Wichita State is one of the last eight out, meaning they're on the wrong side of the bubble.

So...

  • Should Missouri State win the conference tournament, they may be the only team to go Dancing even though the MVC has had many good results in recent years (Northern Iowa beat Kansas last year).
  • Should Wichita State win the conference tournament, that would put them in but might knock Missouri State to the wrong side of the bubble.
  • Should another team rise up and win the event, Missouri State's resume would look even worse...possibly knocking them out of the mix.

If it were up to us, TWO teams from the MVC would get in. They've earned that right in our view. Sometimes the selection committee seems more focused on getting the 6th or 7th best team in from an overrated major conference.  

Here's what the numbers are showing for this week's Missouri Valley tournament, to be played as always in St. Louis, Missouri. All games should be considered as neutral site matchups given the long history at this locale.

MISSOURI VALLEY MARGIN AVERAGES
Wichita State:  +10.9
Missouri State: +6.2
Creighton: +3.7
Indiana State: +3.2
Northern Iowa: +0.8
Evansville: -2.6
Drake: -3.8
Bradley: -4.1
Illinois State: -6.7
Southern Illinois: -7.6

Missouri State is the top seed, but Wichita State has the better margin differential thanks to their knack for bullying bad teams. The bottom of the league was pretty soft this year. Nobody was outright horrible. But, this is often a more competitive league top to bottom than it was this time around.

Northern Iowa fell a long way back after their storybook run last year. Those numbers suggest only the top four teams are true threats to cut down the nets in Sunday's championship game on CBS.

Note that Creighton is only a 5th seed, but grades out as third best in margin average. That makes them a dangerous floater based on what this stat has implied in past tournaments across the full college landscape.

MISSOURI VALLEY TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Missouri State: 44%
Indiana State: 45%
Creighton: 46%
Illinois State: 47%
Southern Illinois: 47%
Wichita State:  48%
Northern Iowa: 49%
Bradley: 49%
Evansville: 51%
Drake: 51%

Missouri State moves back to the head of the discussion when you start looking at defense. Wichita State grades out very poorly in our favorite indicator stat. Indiana State and Creighton take forceful steps forward. This tournament is often a defensive WAR with "turn back the clock" basketball. Tough to string together wins with an inferior inside defense.

MISSOURI VALLEY ADJUSTED PACE FACTORS (slowest to fastest)
Northern Iowa: 60.6
Illinois State: 63.7
Missouri State: 64.1
Creighton: 64.7
Southern Illinois: 64.9
Wichita State:  65.4
Drake: 66.2
Bradley: 66.6
Indiana State: 66.9
Evansville: 67.5

Northern Iowa is the slowest team by a mile, which means they have a shot to sneak through if some of the faster teams can't adjust. Missouri State is slightly slower than Wichita State in the battle of the "big two." Of the most likely darkhorses, Creighton is two possessions slower per game than Indiana State. Generally speaking though, this is a league that's used to slow play, so it's not like any team is going to be running into something they haven't seen before.

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS FROM TREYS (from low to high)
Northern Iowa: 34%
Creighton: 31%
Drake: 31%
Indiana State: 31%
Missouri State: 29%
Wichita State: 29%
Illinois State: 24%
Southern Illinois: 22%
Bradley: 23%
Evansville: 21%

Remember when Northern Iowa hit that gutsy trey that sealed the deal over Kansas? That's their bread and butter. More than a third of their points this year came on treys. That gives them a chance to upset somebody (they play Creighton in the first round and probably Missouri State in the second). Can they string together three straight wins? The bombs need to keep falling.

Top seeds Missouri State and Wichita State are a wash. They have better inside games than Creighton and Indiana State based on the percentages above.

BEST CHAMPIONSHIP POTENTIAL

  • Missouri State would fit the profile best because they have the best two-point defense in the league and don't have any glaring weaknesses in other categories. They don't match Wichita State in margin average because they run up the score less often. But, winning a tournament isn't about running up the score vs. bad teams. It's about taking care of business vs. good teams. The top seed has to be considered the favorite.
  • Wichita State can't be ignored obviously as a #2 seed. They're not quite as well positioned as most #2's though because of that poor inside defense.
  • Creighton strikes us as the most dangerous "outsider" in terms of the team profile. They rank third in margin average, grade out well defensively, and should do fine at a slow pace. They don't have a friendly schedule though, probably having to beat Northern Iowa, Missouri State, and Wichita State in succession based on how the brackets are set up. If Northern gets hot from long range, Creighton will have a short stay in Saint Louis.
  • Indiana State has been great against the spread this year. And, they're in the more favorable half of the bracket in terms of tournament indicators. If the Sycamores can get past the soft 51% inside defense of Evansville, they'll probably face the vulnerable 48% defense of Wichita State in the semifinals. Creighton fits the darkhorse profile better, but Indiana State has the friendly pathway for making a run.

That wraps up our outline for the Missouri Valley tournament. Here's our upcoming schedule in the NOTEBOOK...

THURSDAY: Colonial Preview
FRIDAY: West Coast Preview and Horizon Update
SATURDAY: Sun Belt Preview
MONDAY: Big East Preview (plus an A10 quickie)
TUESDAY: Big 12 Preview (plus MAC, and CUSA quickies)
WEDNESDAY: ACC and Pac 10 Previews (plus WAC and MW quickies)
THURSDAY: SEC and Big 10 Previews (plus a Big West quickie)

That's everybody! The six major conferences will have the full stat profile like you saw today. The "quickies" will include margin averages and two-point defense

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride!

And, it will be a very profitable ride if you sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK! Game day selections are available for credit card purchase a few hours before tipoff. We have great rates for seasonal packages. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

MARCH MADNESS MEANS MONEY MADNESS!

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