Illinois State 76, Wichita State 74
This year's Arch Madness Championship matchup will be between the Missouri Valley Conference's two best teams: Wichita State and Illinois State. The two teams hold the same record of 17-1 and are sharing the title of the MVC's regular season champions. Both teams have incredible offensive and defensive skills and they also have great coaches, Dan Muller and Gregg Marshall, who earned more than 100 wins in their careers.
Both teams split the season series between each other as Illinois State took the first game with a 76-62 win. Wichita State took the second game with a dominating 86-45 win. Because the teams split the series, it is no question that the championship match will be a close game, but with Paris Lee and Deontae Hawkins shooting three-point baskets and Phil Fayne and Davis N'Diaye making slam jams, the Redbirds will take the championship with a score of 76-74.
Jake Klassen | Social Media Analyst | @jklass350
Final: Wichita State 75, Illinois State 69
The first team that Illinois State will face in the tournament are the Evansville Purple Aces on Friday. ISU will win that game 64-53 and advance to play Saturday against Loyola. If one team can squeak by ISU before the championship game, it’s the Loyola Ramblers. They finished second in the MVC in points per game behind Wichita State and only lost by two against ISU on Feb. 19. It’ll play another close one Saturday, but ISU will come out on top 60-56. ISU will advance to the championship game Sunday and face the No. 2 seed, Wichita State.
It will be one more rematch of ISU vs. Wichita State, this game will be much closer than the most recent 41-point blowout that ISU suffered. The Redbirds have gotten healthier with McIntosh back in the starting lineup and contributing well. ISU is coming off an impressive win at the number three seeded Northern Iowa, where they won by 21. ISU is back to playing good basketball, it must take care of the ball and play smart defense to make it a close game. However, Wichita State has more depth off the bench than ISU. The Shockers also win the coaching battle and have been in plenty of big games in the recent past, therefore Wichita wins 75-69.
Kade Heather | Sports Reporter | @kade_heather
Final: Illinois State 70, Wichita State 65
The Purple Aces will take care of Indiana State for the second-straight game thanks to senior Jaylon Brown outdueling the Sycamores’ leading scorer in junior Brenton Scott. But he will not be able to solve the Illinois State defense and Illinois State will win 71-58.
While the game may start slow, the Redbirds will not let another early exit from the Missouri Valley Conference tournament daunt them. Senior Deontae Hawkins and sophomore Phil Fayne, who got his first career double-double against the Aces back on Jan. 29, to have solid performances in the paint. Ultimately, ISU should be able to reach the semifinals.
The Ramblers avenge losing the three seed on the final game of the season by eliminating Salukis of Southern Illinois. And even though it should be another close game between these two just like their game on Feb. 19, the Redbirds still prevail 67-61.
Hawkins continues to have an outstanding tournament to prove he should have been put on the MVC First Team, and senior Paris Lee shows us why he deserves the conference’s Player of the Year honor, which he got last Tuesday. This leads us to the third and final chapter of the biggest trilogy in the MVC this season.
In the conclusion of the season series between these two programs, ISU takes advantage of junior MiKyle McIntosh being back in the lineup, as he was absent against the Shockers on Feb. 4 due to a meniscus injury. And he will make the biggest difference in this game.
Not only will he produce a lot offensively, but his defense will help shutdown playmakers on Wichita State such as sophomore Markis McDuffie and redshirt-junior Shaquille Morris, propelling ISU to a 70-65 win. Either Hawkins or McIntosh get tournament most valuable player, and ISU will go dancing in March for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Nick Landi | Sports Reporter | @TheDon1033
Final: Wichita State 67, Illinois State 59
ISU will play Indiana State on Friday, after the Sycamores squeak out a win over Evansville in the play-in round. The Redbirds easily handed Indiana State in Terre Haute, but the meeting in Normal was a white-knuckle finish for Illinois State, as the Redbirds held on for a five-point win. It will be another competitive match Friday. Indiana State keeps it close but Illinois State pulls away in the final minutes for a nine-point victory. Redbirds 58, Indiana State 49.
Saturday, ISU will meet Loyola in the semifinals. The Ramblers played the Redbirds to a one-possession game in their last meeting at Redbird Arena just a few weeks ago, when ISU escaped with a 65-63 victory. Milton Doyle is one of the best players in the Valley, and he will keep Loyola around in the first half, but in the second half the lethal duo of McIntosh and Hawkins take over for ISU and the Redbirds roll to a 14-point win and a trip to the championship game. Redbirds 72, Loyola 58.
On Championship Sunday, ISU will get its rematch with Wichita State. Everyone associated with the Redbirds remembers the two meetings between the clubs during the regular season, as the Redbirds emphatically knocked off WSU at Redbird Arena in January before the Shockers returned the favor and then some in Wichita, with WSU rolling to a 41-point win in early February. On championship Sunday, you know Valley Player of the Year and senior guard Paris Lee will have a huge game for the Redbirds but it will not be enough. Lee and ISU fall just short of getting back to the big dance for the first time this century, as Shaq Morris and the Shockers capture the Valley’s automatic bid to the big dance, and ISU falls on the wrong side of the bubble, heading back to the NIT. Wichita 67, Redbirds 59.
Tom Prizeman | Sports Columnist | @TPrizeman
Final: Wichita State 75, Illinois State 56
Illinois State will play Evansville Friday after the Aces go on to beat Indiana State with a score of 66-60. Evansville will be ahead the entire game and never really give Indiana State a chance. With that being said, if the Sycamores get off to a really hot start that the game will be close. Indiana State is 80-9 holding their opponents to less than 63 points, so if their defense comes ready to play they might have a slight chance.
Illinois State will come out way ahead of Evansville 68-56, especially with MiKyle Mclntosh back on the court. The Redbirds will then face off against Southern Illinois Saturday in an extremely close and high scoring game that ultimately ends in favor of Illinois State with a score of 73-70. The Redbirds will then play Wichita State Sunday and will lose with the final score being 75-56. Even though the Redbirds didn't have one of their best players in Mclntosh playing against Witchita State last time around the Shockers have their number. Illinois State will really need to come out and perform to stand a chance.
Mike Diaz | Sports Reporter | @MikeyD313
Final: Wichita State 68, Illinois State 58
Indiana State and Evansville square off in the play-in game on Illinois State's side of the bracket, and the Aces will complete their season sweep over the Sycamores. The first two meetings between these teams have been tight-knit, as both games were decided by two points or less. Jaylon Brown leads his team in scoring and Evansville wins 62-55.
Illinois State will coast by Evansville for the third time this season to set up a Senior Night rematch with Southern Illinois. In that contest, the Redbirds squeaked by the Salukis 50-46 as a result of their tenacious defense and timely three-point shooting. On Saturday, ISU will make the necessary adaptations against Southern Illinois, including a stronger scoring presence in the paint, and win 56-48 behind 16 points from Mikyle McIntosh.
The championship rounds bears no surprises, as it will be the rubber match between the Redbirds and Shockers. These two teams will be challenged by Southern Illinois and back-to-back tournament champion Northern Iowa, respectively, but a third round between MVC co-champs is imminent. Wichita State wins 68-58, but the `Birds still earn a NCAA tournament bid.
Nate Head | Sports Repoter | @NateHead51
Final: Illinois State 63, Wichita State 61
The Evansville and Indiana State matchup is a true toss up game after the teams split their regular season matchups. This game is highlighted by the conferences two leading scorers in Jaylen Brown for the Purple Aces and Brenton Scott for the Sycamores. Evansville will prevail in what could come down to the games final possession.
Final: UE 61 ISU 59
The Redbirds handled the Purple Aces in both matchups this season and Friday should be no different. The Redbirds held Jaylen Brown to a combined thirty eight percent from the field in both matchups. Expect the defense to stifle Brown and the rest of the Purple Aces offense en route to a comfortable victory.
Final: Redbirds 63 UE 50
Loyola will avenge its loss from a week ago at Southern Illinois to secure a spot in the semi-finals. Last time out the Redbirds survived a scare from the Ramblers and escaped with a two point victory. Look for this game to remain close throughout, but in the end the senior leadership of Paris Lee and Deontae Hawkins should put a dagger in the Ramblers.
Final: Redbirds 66 Loyola 60
The talk of the Valley has been the collision course the Redbirds and Shockers have been on since November. The two conference giants split their regular season series, with the Shockers embarrassing the Redbirds with a 41-point victory just a month ago. The Redbirds played that game without MiKyle McIntosh and have not lost since his return. The Shockers are not only the hottest team in the Valley right now, but possibly in the country with 12-straight wins. This game should certainly live up to the hype, in a nail-biter the Redbirds to punch their ticket to the NCAA's for the first time since 1998.
Final: Redbirds 63 Shockers 61
Nick Damiani | Sports Reporter | @nGdamiani
Final: Illinois State 71, Wichita State 69
Illinois State will play Indiana State in the first round of the MVC tournament, giving the `Birds a chance to redeem themselves from an embarrassing loss last year. ISU will advance to play Loyola University-Chicago. Southern Illinois defeated Loyola Saturday by two, and Loyola will be looking for revenge. ISU will pull out the win 65-54, advancing them to the finals.
In the final game ISU will take on Wichita State, the only team in the Valley to beat them this year. MiKyle McIntosh will be back in the lineup, a key player who was missing from ISU’s loss to Wichita State, and his role cannot be understated. Even nights when McIntosh isn’t on the board much, the team feeds off his leadership and demeanor. Wichita State has been on fire lately, but ISU will have just what it takes to bring down the No. 21 team in the nation Sunday.
Beth Geistlinger | Sports Editor | @beth_geist