College Basketball Road Trip: MVC teams go for broke, Shockers excluded
MAR 07, 2014 6:30p ET
They call it “Arch Madness.”
It’s a play on words, see, because right outside these doors is a gigantic arch.
We’re in St. Louis. Home to the Gateway Arch. For four days in March, the city is also home of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, where the FOX Sports College Basketball Road Trip was on hand Friday for the quarterfinal games.
This may not be a marquee competition, but what makes smaller-conference tournaments so interesting is the intensity and personality a major conference one sometimes lacks. The ACC, SEC and AAC can boast the “brand names” – your Dukes, Floridas, UConns – but there always seems to be more riding on the bet line at tournaments like the OVC and MVC.
Why? Because a championship is the only way some teams can gain entry into the NCAA Tournament.
Though that’s not the case for Wichita State. The Shockers and their hideously nightmare-fueling mascot rolled into the Scottrade Center undefeated, and through one game, they remain perfect. Winning this tournament not only keeps a perfect season pristine but also practically cements a coveted one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
For everyone else, the message is clear and simple: Do whatever you can to bring down Wichita State. That’s the only way Indiana State or Missouri State gets in. The Shockers are getting their bid either way.
So while there’s always a palpable sense that seasons are on the line at a mid-major conference tournament, what’s happening this year at the MVC is a "Game of Thrones" situation. It’s survival of the fittest, and the fittest – Wichita State – is really, really fit. The Evansville Purple Aces were the first to take a run at the wall on Friday. No dice.
In a way, the huge target on Wichita State’s back adds a unique dynamic to this year’s tournament. The Shockers are a perfect 32-0 on the season after beating Evansville 80-58 (the next-best conference teams have nine and 14 losses), and with everyone gunning for them there’s a slight sense of fiery desperation among the rest of the MVC. Conference time generally brings out more fevered play, but that’s even more the case this year.
The crowd here largely belonged to Wichita State fans, and their team clearly was the show. Still, indomitable spirit and almighty belief in an upset surrounded anyone not dressed in sunflower yellow. Even poor 10-21 Loyola had its adoring fans hanging on every shot. Many squads -- likely 9 out of 10 -- won’t see any more March play, but nothing’s written in stone.
Tournament time presses the reset button, which means there’s always a chance. And sometimes, for a mid-major team counted out by the media and forgotten in the shadow of a rolling juggernaut, a chance is all you get. Sometimes it's all you need.