ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The Missouri Valley Conference has been busting your March Madness bracket for the past six years of March Madness. It started with Northern Iowa University beating the favorite Kansas Jay Hawks in 2010, followed by Wichita State’s run to the Final Four in 2013, and last year both of those schools were on the winning side of first-round upsets.
So who are this year’s potential bracket busters from the MVC: Illinois State and Wichita.
MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin can’t remember the last time two MVC teams have separated themselves quite like the Redbirds and Shockers have this year. Both with conference records of 17-1, the next best teams being Southern Illinois University and UNI, at 9-9.
It’s likely both will be included in the 68 team field of the NCAA Men’s Championship Tournament, proven by Wichita’s No. 22 national ranking and Illinois’ 82.1 percent change to receive at-large bid, according to TeamRankings.
But to be sure, both teams will likely need to advance to the MVC Tournament Final this weekend.
Their only conference losses this season were when they played each other, with the home team winning both times. So a rematch on Sunday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis – a nationally televised game – would be a must-see.
Wichita State has been building it’s NCAA resume for the last decade, with its unprecedented run in 2013 and five consecutive tournament berths. The Shockers are scoring with the best of DI basketball, with the second best average scoring margin in the country and top 10 in assists, rebound, and assist to turnover margin among all schools.
“Probably as explosive an offensive team as I’ve seen in 29 years in the Missouri Valley,” Elgin says. “They are a team that is extremely dangerous, no one is going to be happy to see Wichita State in the bracket.”
Then Illinois, who is the No. 1 seed in the MVC tourney thanks to a higher RPI (Rating Percentage Index, measured by strength of schedule and the outcome against that schedule) has frustrated every offense it faced. Redbirds’ opponents shot just 43.9 percent from the floor again them this season, only two DI teams held teams to a lower shooting percentage (Central Florida and Gonzaga).
Illinois has also been included in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s latest projected NCAA Championship bracket as a 12-seed, with Wichita as a 7-seed.
Theoretically, both teams are two or three wins away from an all-but-automatic NCAA bid, as the MVC tournament begins Thursday night. On Friday at noon, Illinois will face the winner between Evansville and Indiana State (6 p.m., Thursday) and Wichita will play the night cap Friday, against the winner of Bradley and Drake.
For the 27th year in a row St. Louis will host the MVC, which is the second longest active streak for a neutral site tournament, trailing only the Big East’s tenure in New York City.
If you aren’t able to grab a cheap ticket and you can hear KMOX’s Tom Ackerman calling games for MVC Network. The semifinal games will be televised on Saturday by the CBS Sports Network, and Sunday’s MVC Championship at 1 p.m. will be aired on CBS.