When and where: Thursday to Sunday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis
Last year: Fourth-seeded Illinois state stormed past top-seeded Wichita State in the semifinals and took No. 2 Creighton to overtime in the championship game before the Blue Jays managed to exclude a third MVC team from snagging a trip to the NCAA tournament.
This year: History tells us that you can't go wrong with picking one of the top three seeds to win the MVC Championship — they've taken 34 of 36 crowns. That's good news for No. 1 Creighton, No. 2 Wichita State and No. 3 Northern Iowa. The No. 6 seed (Illinois State this year) has only ever won two games in Arch Madness play.
However, No. 4 Evansville, which recovered from injuries to win their last four games of the season including a pair of wins against Wichita State, is looking white hot, and UNI hasn't lost since January (7-0) when senior guard Anthony James has started (he missed parts of two losses with a leg contusion). Either team could be poised to end the run of a top-2 seed.
The favorite: No. 1 Creighton (24-7, 13-5) enters Arch Madness as only the third team in the 105-year history of the MVC to win the regular season title with five losses. All five came against different foes, and four came on the road. The Blue Jays are the only MVC team getting votes in the top 25 polls, and are ranked 20th in Pomeroy's listings. They put an exclamation point on their regular season on Saturday with a 91-79 beatdown of Wichita State in 66 possessions (1.38 ppp!).
Creighton ranks No. 1 in the nation in 3-point shooting and in 2-point shooting for an MVC-best 1.16 points per possession. Of course, we can attribute most of that production to phenom junior Doug McDermott, who draws a lot of possessions (31.3 percent when he's on the floor), takes a metric ton of shots (34.7 percent when on the floor) and whose shots fall at a rate that ranks 17th in the nation (in eFG%). Seniors Gregory Echenique and (former Zag) Grant Gibbs are no slouches — both boast offensive ratings north of 118.
Defensively, there isn't much to the Blue Jays, but they're still hand-over-fist better in this metric than last season when they ranked 178th. Now Creighton is allowing an average of a point per possession but rank 92nd in Pomeroy's adjusted rankings. Echenique's top-100 block rate (7.0 percent) doesn't hurt.
If there's a weakness with this team it's in their inability to create turnovers. During their three-game losing streak in February, the Blue Jays forced just 19 total turnovers in 191 possessions (9.95 percent). The best ballhandling team in the nation (by TORate), Michigan, turns the ball over in 15.0 percent of their possessions. Let that sink in.
The contender: Based on what No. 2 Wichita State (24-7, 12-6) did to its pants on Saturday, it's hard to imagine the Shockers winning three games in St. Louis. But with four starters gone from last year's tournament team, Gregg Marshall seems still to have a lot up his sleeve. Don't forget, WSU took down VCU, Iowa and Air Force in nonconference play.
The guy lost 4 starters and his top 5 scorers from last year's MVC title team and STILL has the Shocks a game away from a 2nd straight crown
— Jason King (@JasonKingESPN) March 2, 2013
The Shockers are home to the MVC's second most efficient offense and defense and draw much of their power from crashing the boards harder than anyone in the conference on both coasts.
You should know about Cleanthony Early if you don't already. The highly-recruited JUCO transfer is just filling up the stat sheet for Wichita State. A 6-8 forward, Early gets the bulk of the possessions and shots, and his counterpart, 6-8 senior Carl Hall, boasts crazy rebounding numbers to go with a 118.7 offensive rating.
The dark horse: No 3 Northern Iowa (18-13, 11-7) gets the nod to end Jackie Carmichael's career at Illinois State in the second round.. Afterall, the Panthers beat ISU, 80-72, to end the regular season, and downed Wichita State, 57-52, and Creighton, 61-54, in their last meeting.
UNI has done it with their MVC-best defense, which has allowed 0.94 ppp by limiting their opponents' looks both inside and out. But the Panthers also are dangerous from range on the offensive end where Marc Sonnen has hit 82 of 183 3-pointers (44.8 percent), and sophomore Deon Mitchell is dishing assists in 29.7 percent of his possessions. But 6-8 sophomore Seth Tuttle is the real threat. He's grabbing rebounds, blocking shots and scoring at will.