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MVC TOURNEY PREVIEW: OPENING ROUNDS
March 4, 2010

SCS.comThis afternoon, I’ll stroll through downtown St. Louis to find a sea of colors for the 2010 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, which showcases one of the more passionate basketball leagues in America.

I understand it’s not 2006 anymore, when the MVC sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament. This season, the conference will only get multiple at-large bids if Northern Iowa fails to win the title. Still, despite the downturn, Arch Madness never fails to provide quality basketball—and its fans never give up. The Creighton blue, Wichita State yellow and Northern Iowa purple will be out in full force throughout the weekend as the MVC tourney visits St. Louis for the 20th straight year. With UNI having essentially locked up its at-large bid, the pressure is on the rest of the Missouri Valley to stop the Panthers from earning a second-straight championship.

The play-in rounds of Arch Madness begin tonight at the Scottrade Center. SouthernCollegeSports.com will bring you a daily preview and recap of each day’s action. Here’s what you need to know for now:

GAME 1: (9) Southern Illinois vs. (8) Drake, 6:05 p.m.

ABOUT THE SALUKIS

Overall record: 15-14

MVC Record: 6-12

Leading scorer: Sophomore Kevin Dillard, 12.5 ppg

Strengths: Dillard's steady play and Carlton Fay's latest tear-- he scored 22.3 points per game during the final three games of the regular season-- gives the Salukis a formidable scoring attack.

Weaknesses: SIU's defense looks nothing like a traditional Chris Lowery team. In their most recent loss to Wichita State, the Salukis allowed WSU to shoot 58.1 percent from the field.

Bottom line: Southern Illinois hasn't played in the play-in round of Arch Madness since the 90s. The Salukis have missed the NCAA Tournament the past three years after making a Sweet 16 in 2006, and they finished under .500 a year ago. Lowery has a relatively young roster, but this former MVC powerhouse has taken quite the tumble. A couple of wins this weekend might give SIU a little momentum heading into a critical 2010-11 campaign.

ABOUT THE BULLDOGS

Overall record: 13-18

MVC Record: 7-11

Leading scorer: Senior Josh Young, 14.6 ppg

Strengths: Young’s name may sound familiar—he played a central role during Drake’s magical 2008 MVC Championship season. He’s making around 37 percent of his three-point attempts, which is an area the Bulldogs excel. Tom and Keno Davis’ teams used to stroke it from three, and Mark Phelps’ squad is no different. In fact, Drake led the entire conference in three-point shooting percentage.

Weaknesses: Young and fellow senior Adam Templeton provide experienced leadership, but Drake has seven freshmen and a handful of first-year transfers, including guard Ryan Wedel from Arkansas State. That might help to explain Drake’s unpredictable season.

Bottom line: A five-game winning streak in January looked promising, but the Bulldogs haven’t strung together any consistency. Drake did beat Southern Illinois in both regular season meetings.

Game Prediction: Drake looked dreadful in a 56-53 home loss to last-place Evansville on Saturday. SIU hasn’t fared much better, losing four of five MVC games to finish the year. If the Bulldogs can knock down some perimeter shots, they’ll be able to squeak by the Salukis in an ugly match-up. Give me Drake 66, Southern Illinois 61.

GAME 2: (7) Missouri State vs. (10) Evansville, 8:35 p.m.

ABOUT THE BEARS

Overall record: 19-11

MVC Record: 8-10

Leading scorer: Sophomore Kyle Weems, 13.9 ppg

Strengths: Missouri State’s size up front, led by the monstrous Caleb Patterson and Will Creekmore, gives the Bears an advantage in the paint. Weems and Leonard—the MVC Newcomer of the Year—form a strong inside-outside scoring duo.

Weaknesses: Missouri State doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well from the outside. Point guard Justin Feuhrmeyer played nine unproductive minutes in MSU’s loss to Indiana State Saturday. The leading assist man is a key to the Bears’ offense.

Bottom line: MSU received top-25 votes after a 10-0 start against weak non-conference competition. The Bears crashed back down to earth in MVC play and showed an inability to win close games. In contests decided by five points or less, the Bears were 2-6.

ABOUT THE ACES

Overall record: 9-20

MVC Record: 3-15

Leading scorer: Freshman Colt Ryan, 14.8 ppg

Strengths: Evansville shares the ball extremely well. Three players average more than three assists per game, including Ryan and guards Kavon Lacey and Troy Taylor.

Weaknesses: Center Clint Hopf’s injury leaves the Aces shorthanded in the frontcourt. Backup Pieter van Tongeren hasn’t proven that he can fill the void.

Bottom line: Evansville only won three MVC games this year, but two of those victories came against Northern Iowa and Wichita State, the top two teams in the league. The young Aces, who rely mostly on underclassmen, have now won two straight MVC games. With budding stars in Ryan and sophomore forward James Haarsma, it’s easy to see why Valley writers believe Evansville could be the surprise of the weekend.

Game Prediction:Evansville is a classic example of a young team finding its groove late in the year. The Aces won their final two games by a combined four points and beat Drake on a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer. Perhaps that’s a storyline to watch, considering Missouri State’s ineptitude in close games. I’ll take the upstart Aces--Evansville 60, Missouri State 58

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