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March 7, 2011

For the fourth straight year, we covered the Missouri Valley Conference tournament live from St. Louis, MO. As usual, Arch Madness didnít disappoint. Regular season champ Missouri State needed two comebacks to reach the finals but eventually ran out of gas against Indiana State, behind the point guard play of freshman phenom Jake Odum. The Sycamores held Missouri State scoreless for nearly 11 minutes during the second half and earned Greg Lansing an NCAA Tournament berth in his first season as a head coach. ISUís looking at seed in the 13 or 14 range, but itís got the guards to knock off a power-conference opponent. As for some awards:

MVP: Jake Odum.

Odum didnít actually win the award, but I voted for himóand thatís because he keyed all three of Indiana Stateís wins. In the quarterfinals against Evansville, of course, Odum hit the game-winner. But his presence on the floor was imperative to ISUís success. His abilities to make plays off the dribble helped break defenses down all weekend, and when he sat with foul trouble, his team suffered.

Best story: Jake Kellyís comeback

Jake Kelly has been through hell and back. Once the leading scorer at Iowa, and heís missed most of the last two seasons and played for the first time in more than a month in Saturdayís semi-finals. Watching Kelly is a pleasure. Heís smooth with the ball and looks like a high-level basketball player; thatís because he is. He didnít shoot particularly well, but his defense was a huge lift to ISU. He helped lock down both Nafis Ricks and Adam Leonard of Missouri State.

Biggest disappointment: Wichita State

Itís not just this weekend. All year, WSU was supposed to dominate this league, but it couldnít overcome inconsistent point guard play and a general lack of focus. The Shockers are more athletic than anyone in this league, but their half-court offense breaks down too often and they canít play with any consistency on the offensive end. Thereís so much talent on this team that itís scary, but that talent will now play in the NIT.

Looking good for next year: Evansville

Indiana State will have one heck of a basketball team with everyone but Aaron Carter back, but Evansvilleís going to enter the 2011-12 season as everyoneís sleeper. Marty Simmons has steadily improved this program and overachieved with a young team this year. His teams play so solidly on defense, and once these guys grow up, itíll be fun to watch the progression.

As for the rest of the relevant conference tournaments? Hereís all you need to know about select tourneys:

Horizon: Want to bet against Butler in a final with Wisconsin-Milwaukee? Do it. I dare you. The Bulldogs werenít exactly dominant during the 2010-11 campaign, but they still tied for the regular season title and theyíre stillButler. Iím going to pick Butler to win Tuesday and advance to the Sweet 16, and Iíll laugh all the way to the bank.

Summit: Oaklandís the easy pick here. Keith Benson and the Golden Grizzlies made all kinds of noise when they beat Tennessee, and theyíve built on that stardom by winning 17 of 18 games in league play.

Sun Belt: Florida Atlantic, the leagueís best team all winter, lost in the quarterfinals along with UL-Lafayette, the team that won 11 straight games. That leaves North Texas, the consensus pre-season number one team that suffered a free fall in February, just one game away from capturing a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth.

Big Sky: Northern Colorado is the logical choice, but Iím rooting for Weber State. The Wildcats have won the last two regular season titles, but theyíve bowed out in the conference tourney both times. After last yearís heroics from Anthony Johnson and Montana, Weber State had to think this was The Year-- and then two-time POY Damian Lillard suffered an injury and was lost for the season. Thatís heartbreak if Iíve ever seen it.

Northeast: After taking care of business in the first two rounds, Long Island needs to knock off defending champ Robert Morris to finally qualify for the NCAAs.

Mid-American: Itís impossible to figure out this conference. The MAC is, by far, the league with the most parity in the country. Kent State has the top seed and the history, but Western Michiganís a team to look out for at the top of the bracket. Bowling Green led its division much of the season and could scare some folks as the four seed.

Conference USA: Itís desperation mode for the bubble-abundant Conference USA. UAB, Memphis and UTEP could all make the field as at-larges, but theyíre certainly not locks in any sense. Tulsaís not even close to the bubble but earned the two-seed and has one of the leagueís best players in Justin Hurtt.

ACC: North Carolina stunned us all by winning the regular season championship this Saturday. So letís see if the Tar Heels can back that up with three more wins this weekend. Something tells me weíll see another Duke/UNC match-up in the finals, but this tournament is more important for the rest of the league. Virginia Tech followed up its marquee win at home against Duke by laying an egg at Clemson, and itís one team that needs victories in Greensboro.

Pac-10: Who wants to win this conference? Arizona and UCLA are helping carrying the Pac-10 banner this year, but Washingtonís not too far behind. And a number of teams could easily win three games in Los Angeles to qualify for the tourney. Wazzuís not a bad pick to do just that. And Iíll never count out Mike Montgomery and California.

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