MVC Tournament: Can anyone dethrone Northern Iowa?

Conference tournament play began Tuesday, kicking off a 12-day mad scramble for NCAA tournament berths. Up next in our previews is the Missouri Valley Conference, home to a Northern Iowa team that has likely already punched its tourney ticket and nine other squads who need to win "Arch Madness" to go.

Missouri Valley Conference Tournament

Date: March 4-7

Site: St. Louis, MO (Scottrade Center)

No. 8 Drake vs. No. 9 Southern Illinois
No. 7 Missouri State vs. No. 10 Evansville

No. 1 Northern Iowa vs. Winner of Drake/Southern Illinois
No. 4 Creighton vs. No. 5 Bradley
No. 3 Illinois State vs. No. 6 Indiana State
No. 2 Wichita State vs. Winner of Missouri State/Evansville

Favorite: Northern Iowa (25-4, 15-3)

Contenders: Wichita State (23-8, 12-6), Illinois State (21-9, 11-7)

Did you know: Last-place Evansville could be a scary quarterfinal opponent for Wichita State if the Purple Aces upset Missouri State. Evansville only won three league games this season, but it beat Wichita once and lost in overtime the second time.

Outlook: It's a good thing Northern Iowa just needs to avoid a first-round disaster to assure itself of an NCAA tournament berth because the Panthers will not have an easy time winning this tournament for a second straight year. Potential semifinal opponent Bradley beat Northern Iowa once this season and came within two points of sweeping the season series, while likely finals matchup Wichita State or Illinois State are both quality 20-win teams who must win the title game to get an NCAA bid. Bubble teams from Power Six conferences should root for the Panthers to survive that minefield because otherwise another MVC team is stealing a bid.

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