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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Genotology for March 11





By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Gonzaga's throttling of Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference final highlighted five automatic bids being awarded from Tuesday night as the latest installment of Genotology has arrived.






Last Four Byes:

Oklahoma
Arizona St.
Cincinnati
Marquette

Last Four In:

Stanford
Indiana
Texas
Florida

First Four Out:

Xavier
NC State
Richmond
Memphis

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Genotology for March 10




By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

x= Automatic NCAA tournament berth

The cancellation of the Ivy League tournament due to the coronavirus means Yale automatically qualifies for the field of 68 as the regular season champions. East Tennessee State punched its ticket to the big dance last night after defeating Wofford in the Southern conference title game.






Last Four Byes:

Oklahoma
Arizona St.
Cincinnati
Marquette

Last Four In:

Stanford
Indiana
Texas
Florida

First Four Out:

Xavier
NC State
Richmond
Memphis

Monday, March 9, 2020

Genotology for March 9





By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen


The time of the year has arrived where I bring to you daily Genotology brackets leading up to selection Sunday. The latest edition highlights Florida State moving into the fourth overall No. 1 seed, while San Diego State drops to the two line.




Last Four Byes:

Oklahoma
Arizona St.
Cincinnati
Marquette

Last Four In:

Stanford
Indiana
Texas
Florida

First Four Out:

Xavier
NC State
Richmond
Memphis

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Rosenberg's recap of Bradley's second straight MVC tournament title





By: Jeremy Rosenberg
Twitter: @CSportsOverload


MVC Championship: (4) Bradley vs. (7) Valparaiso

Pre-game thoughts:

            The 2019-2020 Missouri Valley season draws to a close today, with the Bradley Braves (22-11) taking on the Valparaiso Crusaders (19-15) for the MVC Arch Madness championship and the Valley’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. No higher seeded power conference team will take the Valley champion lightly— the winner of Arch Madness is traditionally an upset waiting to happen.

            Bradley looks to repeat as champion, and to improve on last year’s first-round NCAA exit. Senior point guard Darrell Brown will be the fuel for the Braves’ offensive attack. Junior Elijah Childs will need to be stopping in the mid-range game, and provide a second scoring option. Koch Bar had an outstanding game yesterday, but his presence might be mitigated by Valpo stretching the floor. Finally, look for either Nate Kennell or Ville Tahvanainen from three-point range provide needed outside shooting punch.

            Valpo is seeking its first ever MVC title since joining the conference in 2017. The Crusaders have been Valley bottom feeders, but with a win today can blow up that perception and show that they truly belong. Javon Freeman-Liberty can play with anyone, anytime, if he is in top form, Valpo will hang around. Freshman Donovan Clay has had a breakout tournament, his slashing ability vs. Childs will be a game-within-the-game highlight. Finally, Valpo’s two seniors, Ryan Fazekas and John Kiser are the x-factors. If one or both get hot from three, Valpo could take the title.

            Bradley 80, Valparaiso 66

            Valpo and Bradley shook off the nerves and started strong, trading buckets, and the anticipated battle between Javon Freeman-Liberty and Darrell Brown was joined. Brown hit an early three and created shots for his teammates. Freeman-Liberty confidentially handled the ball, driving to the hoop, or stepping back to knock down a three.

            Bradley senior Nate Kennell also came out strong, hitting an open three and putting 5 points on the board early. Back and forth the two teams went, evenly matched in the first half. Bradley would pull ahead, then Valpo. At halftime, the Crusaders held a slim 38-36 lead.

            Valpo came out of the locker room on a run, and expanded their lead to five points, led by senior John Kiser and aggressive play off the bench by Daniel Sackey. At no time up to this point did Valpo show any effects of having to play an extra game.

            As the game went on, what wore Valpo down was the size and talent of Bradley. For the game, the Braves outrebounded the Crusaders 38-30, and as the game entered the final stretch, Bradley was hitting their shots, and Valpo went cold— culminating in a 17-2 run for the Braves that put them up by 13 points with 2:25 left in the game.

            An admirable run by Valparaiso fell short, but not before playing in their first MVC title game, being the first team to play on Thursday night to make the finals, and not before gaining the full respect of their conference peers. As long as Freeman-Liberty and Clay are both back next season, Valpo will be a force to be reckoned with in the Valley.

            Bradley head coach Brain Wardle has done an outstanding job, leading the Braves to back-to-back NCAA tournament bids. Last year, as a 15 seed, Bradley put up a sprinted effort against Michigan State. This year’s team has more of the look of a 12 or 13 seed, very dangerous if Brown and Childs are both clicking in the same game. Koch Bar and Ari Boya can provide inside size to match a bigger team. The question for a Bradley upset will lay with consistency of their two big scorers, and whether or not Nate Kennell or Ville Tahvanainen can get hot beyond the arc.

            Another Arch Madness is in the books. The Valley puts on a great show every year, and the fans represent in the ‘Lou. It almost has a college bowl game feel about it. Always a fun event, I hope to be back next year.
            
            Goodbye from St. Louis! 
            

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Rosenberg's Arch Madness 2020 live blog recap






By: Jeremy Rosenberg
Twitter: @CSportsOverload

MVC Semifinal No. 1: (8) Drake vs. (4) Bradley

            (2:11 pm) — Today’s coverage of Arch Madness 2020 will be in live blog form. I like this format because it forces me to respond to events in real time, and captures my early impressions without an ability to go back and edit. It should also, therefore, allow the reader to enjoy a snicker or two at my expense when I am completely wrong about some aspect of the game.

            (2:17 pm) — Dude singing Star-Spangled Banner nailed it. Crowd still filing in. Good Bradley turnout, but that is to be expected. Peoria is not so far from St. Louis, and being the defending Arch Madness champs means the program has momentum. 

            Des Moines is a bit farther away, and Drake had a light presence yesterday, especially compared to the Northern Iowa fans filling up huge sections of the lower bowl. Drake put out a call on social media to get fans down here, as a Bulldog championship would be historic to say the least. We’ll see if the students made the trip to the ‘Lou.

            (2:25 pm) — Will it play in Peoria? This was the old ad executive’s question. You can get lost catering to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, but the average consumer lives in a town more like Peoria than New York. Bradley hoops is Peoria’s hometown team. Like so many other small to mid-size towns across America, March Madness means a chance for communities to bond. 

            This is why college basketball will continue to play in Peoria, as well as all the places it represents. 

            (2:31 pm) — Almost time for tip-off. Bradley is the favorite, but I expect the game to be close. If Liam Robbins stays out of foul trouble, and Roman Penn plays as well as he did yesterday, it is well within reason to think Drake could pull another upset.

            (2:40 pm) — Bradley 9, Drake 4 15:22 remaining in half 

                        Elijah Childs has come to play. He is active on the boards, seems fired up and full of energy. Important to see that out of the gate, especially against a team that played an extra game Thursday night. Darrell Brown hit an open three, and looks comfortable and confident running the point.

            (2:50 pm) — Bradley 18, Drake 8 11:48 remaining in half

            Bradley continues its strong start with inside scoring from Koch Bar, and the effort off the bench of Finnish freshman Ville Tahvanainen. I always have an affinity for Finnish athletes, I like to imagine they embody the Sisu of their ancestors, especially Winter War veterans. Ever hear of a Molotov Cocktail? The Finns invented it, and named it after the Soviet Defense Minister. The used these devices to blow up countless Red Army tanks. Truly badass stuff.

            (3:01 pm) — Bradley 24, Drake15 7:47remaining in half

            Elijah Childs picked up his second foul, a technical on what looked like a little bit of post-play scrapping. Nothing dirty, just a little extracurricular activity under the basket. Basketball should be a physical game. I don’t like the technical there at all. Let them play. Bradley appears to be wearing Drake down with talent and depth. Childs’ second foul could slow them down. We’ll see how the Braves respond.

            (3:13 pm) — Bradley 36, Drake 27 3:28 remaining in half 

            This is the third Bradley game I’ve had the privilege to cover this season, and in the first two games, junior guard Danya Kingsby was not really involved on offense. Kingsby certainly has quickness, and today he is making a difference scoring, with seven points so far.

            (3:20 pm) — Bradley 44, Drake 33 52.2 remaining in half

            Darrell Brown has been terrific today, a perfect example of a point guard who can score when his team needs him to. Brown has 19 points and 1 assist. He has shown his full arsenal in the first half, driving to the hoop, knocking down threes, and converting from the free throw line.

            (3:25 pm) — Bradley 44, Drake 35 Halftime 

            The first half is in the books and Bradley has a nine-point lead. Both teams are shooting well from the floor, but Bradley has done a better job protecting the ball. Aside from. Brown’s 19 points, Kingsby has 9, and Koch Bar has 6. For Drake, Liam Robbins has been outstanding, with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and a block.

            (3:36 pm) — I feel like Bradley has this game in hand, and that Drake does not have a comeback in them. Maybe it is the energy level. Maybe it is the improbable win yesterday, eventually adrenaline wears off and nothing is left in the tank, I’m going to predict that Bradley pulls away and ends up winning this game by 12-15 points.

            (3:51 pm) — Bradley 49, Drake 36 16:00 left in game

            Bradley has pushed further ahead, as predicted. Kingsby continues his scoring ways, and senior guard Nate Kennell hit a big three. Drake seems to have a ‘happy to be here’ vibe about the way they are playing. Bradley fans like to chant B-U! Imagine the confusion if they end up playing Valpo U in the finals.

            (4:04 pm) — Bradley 52, Drake 49 11:32 left in game

            Drake storms back, led by Robbins and a streaky-hot Roman Penn, who has taken over on offense. This was always the threat, allowing Drake to hang around long enough for Penn to get hot and steal an upset. Kingsby took a few ill-advised shots and Drake capitalized. Bradley needs Brown to take over on offense and stop the bleeding. 
44.7
            (4:14 pm) — Bradley 61, Drake 5 17:41 left in game

            Pretty complete overall team effort by Bradley to stretch this lead back to ten. Childs hit a pretty jumper. Tahvanainen knocked down three free throws. Koch Bar got a standing ovation from the Bradley faithful when he went to the bench. Bar has 8 points, but zero fouls, even though he has been battling Liam Robbins all night.

            (4:23 pm) — Bradley 66, Drake 57 4:07 left in game

            Drake was storming back, and had grabbed momentum. But, then…IT happened. The dagger three. (Kevin Harlan’s voice in your head is optional.) With Drake within six points, Bradley forward Elijah Childs hit a huge three, breaking the Drake run and moving the deficit back to nine.

            (4:35 pm) — Bradley 70, Drake 61 1:11 left in game 

A sweet floating jumper in the lane by Brown was bookended by an Elijah Childs and one, and Bradley puts the game out of reach. Nothing but free throws from here out.

            (4:39 pm) — Bradley 76, Drake 66 Final Score

            Bradley (22-11) advances to the MVC Championship tomorrow, led by Darrell Brown, Elijah Childs, and Koch Bar. Bradley was in charge from start to finish, while Drake had enough fight in them to keep it close at times, Bradley clearly had more jump in the step. Final thoughts on this game and its implications after a break, and maybe coffee and a cookie if any are out.
            
            (4:58 pm) — Bradley advances to the MVC title game for the second straight year. Should they win, it will be the first back-to-back MVC Championships for the first time in school history. It would also only be the fourth title overall for Bradley. For the second straight season, Drake falls in the MVC semis. Anthony Murphy will be missed, but is the only loss for the Bulldogs. Liam Robbins and Roman Penn will be a force to be reckon with in the Valley next year.

MVC Semifinal 2: (6) Missouri State vs. (7) Valparaiso

            (5:06 pm) — Ready for semifinal number two, as the two lower seeds meet after knocking off the number two and three seeds. Missouri State was the MVC pre-season pick to win it all, but was inconsistent all year. They are deep, long, and athletic. Gaige Prim is a physical presence that Valpo may not have an answer for. My guess is that they should have too much overall depth and talent for the Crusaders to handle.

            But Valpo has one obvious strength. They can shoot the lights out when they are on. If Ryan Fazekas can get open, and Javon Freeman-Liberty can put a full, 40-minute effort together, Valpo could advance to the title game. 

            (5:23 pm) — Valparaiso 9, Missouri State 6 15:24 left in half

            A couple of early threes by Valpo junior forward Mileek McMillan set the tone for Valpo early, and the Crusaders have an early lead on the Bears. Gaige Prim is involved early with a couple of buckets for MO State.

            (5:32 pm) — Valparaiso 15, Missouri State11 11:44 left in half

            Valpo and MO State trading body blows, but Valpo keeps the upper hand. McMillan is involved on both ends of the court. His presence can negate Missouri State’s size advantage. He picked a very good time to play his best basketball.

            (5:41 pm) — Missouri State 23, Valparaiso 15 7:49 left in game

            MO State freshman Isiaih Mosley played well last night, making me wonder if Mizzou let a Columbia native get away. Tonight, Mosley is playing even better, as along with Keandre Cook they lead a 12-2 run for the Bears and MO State takes the lead.

            (5:50 pm) — Missouri State 31, Valparaiso 31 3:41 left in game

            Valpo looks explosive as they charge back, led by Javon Freeman-Liberty and Daniel Sackey. Freeman-Liberty labored to get to the bench at a time out, however, and seems like he is feeling the effects of his recent bout of mono. Gotta admire his guts. Sackey picks up the slack with a strong performance and clutch ball handling.

            (6:00 pm) — Valparaiso 40, Missouri State 38 Halftime

            A well-played, intense half of Valley basketball as Valpo and Missouri State both shoot 52 percent from the floor. Balanced scoring from both teams, as no player has cracked double digits for each team. This game has the feel of a down-to-the-wire nail biter.

            Given the large turnout by other schools, I’m a little surprised Missouri State does not have a larger fan presence here today. Springfield isn’t that far, and considering this weekend offers a chance at redemption for a disappointing season, you would think the MO State faithful would be out in force.

            (6:10 pm) — It just occurred to be that Arch Madness would be a great name for a Podiatrist Convention. They could recycle all the materials and have it right here in St. Louis. As for the second half, I like what I’m seeing from Valpo’s guards. It would be easy to pick MO State to wear down the Crusaders, but I say Freeman-Liberty, Sackey, and Donovan Clay have a big half, and meet Bradley in the final.

            (6:24 pm) — Valparaiso 55, Missouri State 46 15:32 left in game

            Valpo explodes out of the locker room, with inspired play by Freeman-Liberty and Donovan Clay. Aside from Prim on the inside, Missouri State is having a difficult time scoring, they need to get Mosley back in. Valpo senior Ryan Fazekas had been ice cold, but finally broke through with a big three set up by a Clay assist. Everything going Valpo’s way right now. We’ll see if it holds.

            (6:37 pm) — Valparaiso 65, Missouri State 55 10:35 left in game

            Javon Freeman-Liberty has arrived. He’s shown some flashes here and there, but he has exploded for 17 points in this semifinal. Add to that the play of freshman Donovan Clay and sophomore guard Daniel Sackey and Valpo is still running hot. Opposing coaches have to be very concerned at what they are seeing out of Clay. This guy will be around for three more years. He is the total package, very slippery near the net.

            (6:44 pm) — Valparaiso 71, Missouri State 60 8:00 left in game

            Valpo keeps MO State at arm’s length, as Freeman-Liberty continues to lead the way, now up to 23 points. Missouri State senior Ross Owens fouls out of what may be his final game. Coach Dana Ford electing to keep Gaige Prim on the bench.

            (6:56 pm) — Valparaiso 76, Missouri State 69 3:07 left in game

            Keandre Cook leads a mini-comeback for the Bears, but they can’t get closer than seven. After a couple more buckets by Freeman-Liberty, Valpo has gone cold. They need to take advantage, this is the last chance for Missouri State. 

            (7:11 pm) — Valparaiso 85, Missouri State 82 20.4 left in game

            Keandre Cook and Tulio Da Silva are not ready for their college careers to end. Taking advantage of spotty Valpo free throw shooting, the Bears have pulled within three. Cook with 26 points. Ready for a big finish!

            (7:15 pm) —Valparaiso 89, Missouri State 82 Final Score

            It’s never easy, is it? Missouri State made a furious comeback attempt, but fell short as Javon Freeman-Liberty and the Valparaiso Crusaders (19-15) pulled out the victory and advance to the MVC title game, and a chance at their first ever MVC Championship. Freeman-Liberty burst out of his shell, finishing with 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. 

            Missouri State will lick their wounds. The Bears lose a lot from this year’s team, and unless a new round of grad transfers heads for Springfield next year will be a rebuild for the Bears.

            Tomorrow’s title game against the Bradley Braves should be a good one. Watch for the matchup between Donovan Clay and Elijah Childs, as well as an obvious chance for Freeman-Liberty and Darrell Brown to shine.

            Good night from St. Louis! 

            
            

            
            

            

Friday, March 6, 2020

Rosenberg's recap of a wild Friday at Arch Madness



Photo Credit: Jeremy Rosenberg



By: Jeremy Rosenberg
Twitter: @CSportsOverload


On a historic day in the quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the underdogs proved king.



8) Drake 77, 1) Northern Iowa 56

Drake still had their mojo working after last night’s win over Illinois State. The Bulldogs came out hot, shooting 58 percent from the floor overall, and a scorching 60 percent from three in the first half. Led by versatile guard Roman Penn and senior Anthony Murphy, Drake was on fire. Sophomore Liam Robbins dominated the one-on-one battle with UNI sophomore Austin Phyfe. UNI was tentative, playing scared. You could feel the tension in the sizable UNI fan section.

A late 7-0 run at the end of the first half, however, brought the Panthers to a manageable deficit, trailing Drake 43-33. With UNI’s shooters, there was no reason to believe the Panthers could not comeback. It all depended on whether or not Drake could keep up the hot shooting.

It was UNI that came out hot, clearly fired up by some kind of locker room pep talk for the ages. Something along the lines of — ‘let’s try to avoid a colossal choke job.’ Phyfe began to get tough under the basket, outmuscling Robbins and drawing fouls. Conference Player of the Year A.J. Green began to play like it. The Bulldog lead was cut to two.

But just as UNI got close, Roman Penn took over on offense scoring 6 points in three minutes, and when UNI head coach Ben Jacobson called a timeout with nine minutes left in the 2nd half, Drake had stretched their lead to 56-48.

The run continued, and Drake eventually opened up a 16-point lead with 4:26 left in the second half. UNI shots would not fall, and the entirety of Panther Nation sat in stunned silence.

To be fair to Northern Iowa, Drake was as good of a number eight seed as Arch Madness has seen in many years. But the disappointment at UNI cannot be understated. This team and its fans had high hopes and lofty expectations. 

That’s Arch Madness, though. Better come out of the gate sharp or a hot team could cut you down. When the final horn sounded, Drake had pulled off an improbable but convincing 77-56 win, propelling the Bulldogs into Saturday’s semifinals.

For UNI, the NIT awaits, a bitter consolation prize for a team that expected so much more. 

(4) Bradley 64, (5) Southern Illinois 59

Game two had a different feel right from the get go. Both Bradley and SIU came out cold, setting the tone for a scrappy defensive battle. Freshman Lance Jones showed he belonged on the big stage, knocking down a couple of threes and finishing at the rim when needed. Along with the gritty play of senior Eric McGill, the Salukis went to the halftime locker room feeling pretty good.

Bradley rode the strong play of junior forward Elijah Childs, who at times looked like the best player on the court. Senior Nate Kennell came out shooting blanks, however, and was scoreless in the first half.

The second half featured a battle of number fives, with Bradley senior point guard and Lance Jones trading blows, back and forth. The game played out like a prizefight, with multiple ties down the stretch and no team leading by more than two. Graduate transfer Ronnie Suggs dropped in two free throws with 43 seconds left, and the game was tied 59-59.

A nifty feed from Nate Kennell led to an old-fashioned three-point play by Ja’Shon Henry, giving the Braves a 62-59 lead with 17.9 seconds remaining. Lance Jones' layup hung tantalizingly on then rim, but it was not meant to be, as SIU failed to score in the last 3:15 of the game.

Brown finished with 19 points and eight assists, while Elijah Childs had 16 points and nine boards. Three big threes from Finnish frosh Ville Tahvanainen were timely, and Bradley finished with a 64-59 victory.

As a side note, outstanding showing by fans of both these schools, it was a fantastic atmosphere for game two.

Saturday will have Drake (20-13) vs. Bradley (21-11) in the first semifinal. Roman Penn vs. Darrell Brown will be a classic March battle of point guards.




(7) Valparaiso 74, (2) Loyola 73, OT

            Eat your heart out, Horizon League. Valparaiso and Loyola of Chicago are part of the Missouri Valley now, and lead off the evening quarterfinal session. Any hopes Valpo had for a deep run rested with Javon Freeman-Liberty, and a big game would be required out of the Crusaders super sophomore for them to advance.

            In the first half, however, Freeman-Liberty fizzled, and was eclipsed by Loyola junior Keith Clemons. The Atlanta-area product knocked down 4-of-5 from three point range, and led all scorers at halftime with 17 points. Juniors Cameron Krutwig and Aher Uguak were content to do the dirty work, while Clemons lit up the scoreboard, and the Ramblers took a 36-22 halftime lead into the locker room.

            Freeman-Liberty had an utterly forgettable half of basketball, with 0 points, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers. Quite often a great player will break out after such a slow start, and without some kind of special effort from Freeman-Liberty in the second half, things looked bleak for the Crusaders. 

            The second half began much like the first one ended, with Clemons dropping in buckets and a protracted Loyola run. Loyola expanded their lead to 18 points, and looked like they were cruising to an easy rout.

            With Freeman-Liberty on the bench, the Crusaders managed to put together a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to seven. More heroics by Clemons stretched the lead back to ten with 5:45 left in the game. Credit to the Crusaders, as they kept nipping away at the Loyola lead, getting as close as three with 20 seconds left in the game.

            It took two missed free throws by Uguak to set up an improbable three, with two defenders in his face, by Valpo senior Ryan Fazekas to tie the game at 68 with 10 seconds remaining. Loyola could not convert and a game that once had them up by 18 was headed to overtime.

            Both teams fell cold in OT, Freeman-Liberty hit a nice driving jumper but fouled out on the next possession. Donovan Clay hit a twisting layup to put the Crusaders up 72-71 with 20 seconds left. Two Cameron Krutwig free throws had Loyola up 73-72 with ten seconds left.

            Senior John Kiser, who finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists drove the lane, and dropped a perfect dime to junior Eron Gordon, who gently kissed the ball of the backboard for the game-winning layup.

            Along with Kiser, fellow senior Fazekas refused to let Valpo die, even with Freeman-Liberty having an off-night, even with an 18-point deficit to overcome.

            The never-say-die Crusaders take a second Cinderella slipper into the Arch Madness semifinals. If Freeman-Liberty is on his game, watch out for Valpo to make the finals.

(6) Missouri State 78, (3) Indiana State 51

            It has been quite a quarterfinal day here in St. Louis. Drake began the day with an historic upset over number one seed Northern Iowa. Bradley and Southern Illinois battled in a tough, physical game. Valparaiso won on a late overtime layup, coming back from an 18-point deficit, and knocking off the number two seed Loyola.

            Therefore, it would perhaps be asking too much for Indiana State and Missouri State to deliver a classic to end the evening. But the way the two teams battled early on, the physical play, it couldn’t help, but tease another extraordinary contest.

            Junior Gaige Prim stood out, muscling his way around the paint, taking advantage of his size and skill. Seniors Lamont West, Tulio Da Silva, and Ross Owens seemed determined to prolong their college careers, and helped the Bears burst out to 25-18 lead late in the first half.

            Throughout the first half, Missouri State looked like the better team. The Bears were bigger, stronger, longer, and they seemed to want it more, winning the hustle plays and 50-50 balls. With ISU freshman Jake LaRavia on the bench in foul trouble, the Sycamores desperately missed his presence on the court. At halftime, the Bears took a 34-24 lead into the locker room.

            Missouri State came out in the second half determined to pound the ball inside, with Gaige Prim and Lamont West continuing to dominate the paint. Senior guard Keandre Cook, cold most of the night, confidently drilled a three that put the Bears up 60-42 with 7:44 left in the game. 

            Unlike the previous game, there was no miracle comeback to be had. The Bears were too long, too disruptive defensively, too athletic, too determined. The final minutes turned into a Da Silva highlight reel of dunks. In the end, Missouri State overwhelmed the Sycamores by the score of 78-51.

            Victory by the Bears sets up an intriguing semifinal with Valparaiso Crusaders. The Crusaders do not have the inside muscle to contend with the Bears, but they can shoot. If Freeman-Liberty can be on top of his game, Valpo should be able to keep the game within striking range of their senior shooters. If not, the Bears size and strength will advance them to the finals. 

            

            

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Rosenberg's guide to the 2020 edition of Arch Madness





By: Jeremy Rosenberg
Twitter: @CSportsOverload


For the 30th straight year, Arch Madness and the hopes of Missouri Valley Conference fans converge on the banks of the Mississippi River, in downtown St. Louis. There is something to be said for this degree of consistency, how it becomes an annual pilgrimage, a chance to explore the Gateway City and to sample its robust beer and party culture.

Each of the ten MVC teams brings different expectations to Arch Madness. Whoever emerges will likely prove themselves to be a formidable NCAA Tournament foe, a prime upset candidate that tends to nestle comfortably in the twelve seed.

Northern Iowa 25-5 (14-4), enters the conference tournament as the number one seed, uncertain of an at-large bid, with memories of last year’s disappointment fresh on their minds. A series of nail-biters brought the Panthers to the finals, only to lose to Bradley 57-54. Sophomore A.J. Green won the MVC Player of the Year award earlier this week, and will be expected to provide a scoring punch, while Defensive Player of the Year Isiah Brown will look to lock down the opponent’s top scorers each game. Led by Coach of the Year Ben Jacobson, UNI is deep, well-coached, and with a couple of wins may secure their bid by Sunday, without having to win. Not that they want to leave that to chance.

Who could possibly forget the dream 2018 Final Four run by Loyola-Chicago21-10 (13-5)? Remember what happened the following year? Probably not, as the Ramblers were cut down in the MVC semifinals by those same Bradley Braves, 53-51. Cameron Krutwig and Tate Hall lead Loyola, who also has defensive ace Lucas Williamson to add balance. Under Porter Moser, the Ramblers are a threat to win it all and get back to the big dance.

Indiana State 18-11 (11-7), stormed into the three seed with a four-game win streak to close out the season. Entering March hot is always a good idea, and the Sycamores are full of confidence. ISU is bursting with talent, led by dynamic guard tandem Tyreke Key and Jordan Barnes, with outstanding freshman Jake LaRavia making an impact. But watch out for senior Christian Williams, a team leader and lockdown defender. The Sycamores fell on opening night of Arch Madness last year, and the 2020 team has expectations far beyond the quarterfinals.

The elephant in room is defending champion Bradley 20-11 (11-7). The Braves had their eyes on the number two seed, but late losses to Valpo and Loyola, alongside ISU’s surge dropped Bradley to number four. This sets up an intriguing semifinal rematch with Northern Iowa, but there is no guarantee they will get there. Four vs. five Arch Madness games tend to be close affairs, true 50/50 matchups. Bradley is led by seniors Darrell Brown and Nate Kennell, as well as junior Elijah Childs. Koch Bar is disruptive in the middle. Bradley seems to be facing an underachieving 2020 season, unless they can pull out another Arch Madness title.

The Southern Illinois Salukis16-15 (10-8), have been overachievers this year. Picked to finish last in preseason polls, SIU put together a respectable record, a credit to the job done by head coach Bryan Mullins. The Salukis come with something old, seniors Aaron Cook, Barret Benson, and Eric McGill, and something new, freshmen Marcus Domansk and Lance Jones. Domansk especially will command attention, and a string of Saluki upsets will start with him turning Arch Madness 2020 into a personal coming out party.

Missouri State 15-16 (9-9) managed to escape the dreaded opening round game by securing the number six seed. Last year, in a typical four vs. five game, the fourth seeded Bears lost to, wait for it, Bradley, 61-58. MSU has a formidable front line with Gaige Prim and Tulio Da Silva. Senior guard Keandre Cook makes the engine run, but for the Bears the loss of Tyrik Dixon may be too difficult to overcome.

All hopes for Valparaiso 16-15 (9-9), rest on the health of superb sophomore Javon Freeman-Liberty as he is listed as probable. Valpo has been slow to adapt to the MVC after dominating the Horizon League for years. Having to play in the opening game makes things difficult, but senior Ryan Fazekas can provide complementary scoring if Freeman-Liberty is back and healthy.  If the Crusaders are clicking, they could pull an upset or two.

Drake 18-13 (8-10), lost a two-point heartbreaker to Northern Iowa in the MVC semifinals last year. The mighty Panthers await the Bulldogs in the quarterfinals, but only if they escape their first-round game. 7-0 sophomore Liam Robbins anchors the middle, while 5-11 junior Roman Penn is one of the more underrated players in the Valley. 

The injury bug has taken the depth from Illinois State 10-20 (5-13). A healthy Keith Fischer would go a long way towards helping the Redbirds spring an upset over Drake. Any kind of lengthy run by Dan Muller’s crew is highly unlikely.

Last and certainly least, Evansville 9-22 (0-18) has already accomplished the season goal of ruining Kentucky’s NET. Look up the words “Dumpster Fire” in the dictionary and you will see a description of the Purple Aces program. Do they even print dictionaries anymore?

As for predictions, I’d like to be bold and say Bradley or Loyola will pull this out. I could go all hot take and pick Valpo, led by Freeman-Liberty. But, I cannot and will not do these things. Northern Iowa has been the best team in the conference all season, and has the depth and talent to pull an NCAA upset or two should the matchups align favorably. 


Opening Round:        

(8) Drake over (9) Illinois State 
(7) Valparaiso over (10) Evansville

Quarterfinals:

(1) Northern Iowa over (8) Drake
(4) Bradley over (5) Southern Illinois
(2) Loyola over (7) Valparaiso
(3) Indiana State over (6) Missouri State

Semifinals:

(1)   Northern Iowa over (4) Bradley
(3) Indiana State over (2) Loyola

Finals:

(1) Northern Iowa over (3) Indiana State