If you needed proof that March Madness has arrived, the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference was it.
As the second-oldest conference in Division I, behind only the Big 10, the Missouri Valley Conference has provided so many great hoops moments over the years. Look no further than the fact that players such as Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird, just to name a couple, once called The Valley home. The conference has produced nine National Players of the Year.
In fact, the Missouri Valley might be considered one of those super conferences these days if some of the former members hadn’t left. Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, Iowa, Butler, Oklahoma, Houston, and Cincinnati were all once part of The Valley.
These days, the MVC isn’t looked at as much of a threat, especially since the recent departures of Creighton, who will be the number one seed in the Big East Conference Tournament this year, and Wichita State, who are 22-8 this season.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not any great basketball being played in The Valley. Over the last four days, the Missouri Valley Conference showed the country what March Madness is truly all about.
Upsets came early and often at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
Upsets are one of the many great features of March Madness and the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament certainly wasn’t short on those.
Played in St. Louis and known as Arch Madness, the MVC tourney opened with two games this past Thursday. The excitement started there as Evansville, who didn’t win a conference game all season long (0-18), gave seventh-seeded Valparaiso all they could handle, eventually losing 58-55. No. 8 Drake beat Illinois State, 75-65, to set up a matchup with regular-season champ Northern Iowa. And that’s where the fun really began.
Northern Iowa came into Friday’s game with Drake with a 25-5 record and was the clear favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. But, as everyone knows, records don’t always matter when March Madness rolls around. The Bulldogs shocked the Panthers, blowing them out by 21, 77-56. But the upsets wouldn’t end there.
In an overtime thriller, second-seeded Loyala-Chicago lost to Valparaiso, 74-73. Then, No. 3 Indiana State was upset by preseason favorite Missouri State. The fourth-seeded Bradley Braves were the only higher-seeded team to win on Friday, and that was only by five in a 64-59 victory over No. 5 Southern Illinois.
2020 was the first time in history that the top two seeds lost prior to the semifinals. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds had been a combined 57-1 in the quarterfinals prior to Friday.
The madness continued on Saturday
The madness didn’t stop on Saturday. Bradley, who won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last year, continued to win the games they were supposed to win with a 10-point over Drake, who still ended the season with 20 wins, one of four teams in The Valley to reach the 20-win mark. The Braves reached their second consecutive title game with the 76-66 victory.
However, the surprises continued as No. 7 Valpo scored yet another upset win, this time an 89-82 win over No. 6 Missouri State. With the victory, the Crusaders, in just their third year in The Valley, became the first team in Missouri Valley Conference Tournament history to reach the finals after having to play a game on Thursday. They’re the lowest-seeded team to reach the championship game.
Who won the 2020 Missouri Valley Conference tournament?
In fitting fashion, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament final was a nailbiter, at least for most of it.
Close throughout the first 20 minutes, the Crusaders took a 38-36 lead into the half. Six minutes into the second half, Valpo held a 48-42 lead and then Bradley exploded. Over the next 11 minutes, the Braves went on a 24-5 run en route to an 80-66 win.
With the win, head coach Brian Wardle’s Braves became just the fourth team in Division I since 2000 to win back-to-back conference tournament titles being seeded fourth or worse. Bradley will also make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1954 and 1955.
The waiting game now begins. While Bradley knows they’re in and will find out who their NCAA tourney opponent is next Sunday, Northern Iowa will have a week filled with torture as they have to hope the combination of a 25-6 record and the MVC regular-season title is good enough for an at-large bid.
What a week it was for the Missouri Valley Conference. March Madness is here. And The Valley just showed everyone what it’s all about.