Seasoned fans of the Missouri Valley always know to expect the unexpected when it comes time for the league’s fabled tournament in St. Louis.
However, even the most experienced follower of the Valley couldn’t have predicted what played out on Friday. In an event with 43 years of history, 30 of which taking place in the Gateway city, the conference has probably not seen a single day as historic, unpredictable, unnerving or jaw-dropping as yesterday’s semifinal round slate.
When No. 8 seed Drake upset regular season champion and No. 1 seed Northern Iowa 77-56, the Panthers’ largest margin of defeat all season, it marked the first time that a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed. The Bulldogs are just the second team ever to play in Thursday’s play-in to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.
The last team to do it? Bradley in 1998, when the seventh-seeded Braves took down second-seeded Creighton.
After No. 4 Bradley narrowly snuck by No. 5 Southern Illinois in a brief return to normalcy, madness ensued again in session two.
No. 2 seed Loyola led an 18-point second half lead slip away against No. 7 Valparaiso and lost in the first overtime game in the tournament in two years, 74-73. The Crusaders never possessed a second-half lead, and the conference scoring leader Javon Freeman-Liberty scored just six points and fouled out in OT. That’s not even the craziest part.
Something that happened once in 42 prior tournaments happened twice on the same day.
As if the Enterprise Center’s collective blood pressure wasn’t high enough, No. 6 Missouri State went ahead and crushed No. 3 seed Indiana State 78-51 to mark the first time in Arch Madness history that the top three seeds fell in the quarterfinals.
Who would’ve thought that Bradley would be the highest remaining seed left after Friday?
I’m sure nobody in the conference has even begun to fathom the possibility of broadcasting legend Kevin Harlan calling a game between two of the league’s cellar dwellers.
While coaches notoriously talk about how everything that happened in the regular season is thrown out the window once the tournament rolls around, this is truly the first time anything like this has happened in this storied conference’s history.
Entering Saturday’s semifinal matchups between Bradley and Drake and Missouri State and Valparaiso, a team to play on Thursday has never seen the light of Sunday’s title game.
But, of all the seasons, this would be the year. So, when you head to Enterprise Center this afternoon leave your expectations at the gate and be sure to bring extra cash. The only thing that’s certain will be your need to head to the MVC Fan Hangout in Ballpark Village for a cold Budweiser to wash down the tears of your favorite team’s dashed big-dance dreams.
I’m sure fans all around the nation are ready to hear Harlan’s golden voice and delivery as a soundtrack for a marquee matchup between Drake and Valparaiso. Because it hasn’t happened before almost certainly means it will happen this year.
On its 30th anniversary, we may be witnessing the first truly mad Arch Madness.