NO. 8 DRAKE OR NO. 9 EVANSVILLE VS. NO. 1 WICHITA STATE
When: 12:05 p.m. Friday at Scottrade Center, St. Louis
TV: FSKC (Cox 34, Dish 418, DirecTV 672, U-Verse 750)
Coach: Ray Giacoletti
Tournament titles: 2008
Best non-conference win: 71-68 vs. Western Michigan
Why fans drive 365 miles to the Scottrade Center: To check out radio announcer Dolph Pulliam’s wardrobe and remember 2008.
Players to watch: F Aaron Hawley made 5 of 8 threes and scored 23 points Saturday vs. Bradley. He made 5 of 8 threes in two games against the Shockers. G Jordan Daniels made 28 of 60 threes (46.7 percent) in 18 MVC games.
Can Drake get to the final: The Bulldogs turn the ball over too often to win three games in three days. Drake scored 60.8 points a game over the second half of the MVC season, putting too much pressure on its defense.
Coach: Marty Simmons
Tournament titles: 0
Best non-conference win: 89-76 vs. Mercer
Why fans drive 171 miles to the Scottrade Center: Thinking about D.J. Balentine eats up 128 miles; reminiscing about Jerry Sloan the rest.
Players to watch: Balentine is a superb scorer who exhausts defenders running off screens. C Egidijus Mockevicius averaged 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds over the past nine games. He scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against WSU on Feb. 16.
Can Evansville get to the final: The Aces are too young. Maybe in 2016. Evansville’s defense improved over the second half of the conference schedule, but not enough.
WICHITA STATE (31-0)
Coach: Gregg Marshall
Tournament titles: 1985, 1987
Best non-conference win: 70-65 at Saint Louis
Why fans drive 446 miles to the Scottrade Center: This has got to be the year.
Players to watch: G Ron Baker returns to the place where he started his magic March last season. G Tekele Cotton made 18 of 42 threes (42.9 percent) over the past nine games, foiling defenses who wanted to sag off him. F Cleanthony Early will attract NBA scouts with his inside-outside scoring.
Can Wichita State get to the final: CBS may pull the plug if it doesn’t. WSU won the MVC by six games (tying Bradley’s 1985-86 record) and three more wins against that overmatched competition seems inevitable. Opponents might want to start by not fouling. The Shockers made an MVC-best 73.8 percent from the line in conference games and shot a conference-high 447 free throws.
NO. 5 ILLINOIS STATE VS. NO. 4 MISSOURI STATE
When: 2:35 p.m. Friday
ILLINOIS STATE (16-14)
Coach: Dan Muller
Tournament titles: 1983, 1990, 1997, 1998
Best non-conference win: 81-75 vs. Dayton
Why fans drive 168 miles to the Scottrade Center: With three trips to the title game the past six seasons, the Redbirds are used to winning in St. Louis.
Players to watch: Freshman C Reggie Lynch scores and blocks shots, when he’s not in foul trouble. He’s fouled out 10 times. G Daishon Knight is averaging 15.1 points the past nine games.
Can Illinois State get to the final: The Redbirds play an aggressive 2-3 zone defense and led the MVC in steals at 7.8 a game. They shoot poorly from almost everywhere on the floor, so their hopes depend on creating panic and easy baskets. It worked for a half against the Shockers in Redbird Arena. Doubtful.
MISSOURI STATE (19-11)
Coach: Paul Lusk
Tournament titles: 1992
Best non-conference win: 96-93 vs. Tulsa
Why fans drive 212 miles to the Scottrade Center: Seven second-place finishes in St. Louis breeds a unique brand of stubborn.
Players to watch: F Jarmar Gulley is one of the Valley’s most well-rounded players and averaged 15.6 points and 7.7 rebounds the past nine games. Freshman G Austin Ruder made 41.7 percent of his threes, fifth-best in the MVC.
Can Missouri State get to the final: The Bears pushed Wichita State to overtime in January. That provides more hope than any other MVC team can generate. MSU made 36.4 percent of its threes, tied for third in the Valley. If it gets hot, things could get interesting.
NO. 7 BRADLEY OR NO. 10 LOYOLA VS. NO. 2 INDIANA STATE
When: 6:05 p.m. Friday
Coach: Geno Ford
Tournament titles: 1980, 1988
Best non-conference win: 77-64 vs. Chicago State
Why fans drive 173 miles to the Scottrade Center: It’s a first Thursday in March routine for Braves fans.
Players to watch: G Walt Lemon leads Bradley in scoring, shots, assists, steals and turnovers. He’s one reason to watch a struggling team. F Tyshon Pickett is a physical defender and rebounder who could use some help.
Can Bradley get to the final: Teams without a true point guard rarely thrive. Bradley ranks last in the MVC in three-point shooting (31.8 percent) and assists (9.6). The Braves also lack depth. Lemon and Pickett can’t do it all.
Coach: Porter Moser
Tournament titles: 0
Best non-conference win: 76-72 vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Why fans drive 292 miles to the Scottrade Center: Hey, it’s better than the Horizon League Tournament sites in Wisconsin.
Players to watch: Freshman G Milton Doyle leads the Ramblers in every significant category except rebounds. He can make Loyola a factor in the future with adequate talent to help. G Devon Turk is instant offense off the bench, making 38.1 percent of his threes.
Can Loyola get to the final: No, but the Ramblers should stick around to watch Saturday games, win or lose, to feel like they’re part of the family. Loyola is one of the MVC’s weakest defensive teams and won’t improve until it gets bigger and stronger.
INDIANA STATE (21-9)
Coach: Greg Lansing
Tournament titles: 1979, 2001, 2011
Best non-conference win: 89-73 vs. Belmont
Why fans drive 170 miles to the Scottrade Center: Oh boy. If the No. 2 seed doesn’t draw, the Scottrade Center will look empty and Creighton fans watching on TV will chuckle. Step up, Sycamores fans.
Players to watch: G Jake Odum makes his final appearance in the tournament where he polished his reputation in 2011. F Khristian Smith averages 11.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Can Indiana State get to the final: Not unless the Sycamores start shooting better. They are shooting 27.7 percent from behind the arc the past five games. They enter the tournament on a three-game losing streak and opponents shot an average of 27.3 free throws in those games. This is a team in need of a refresh button and perhaps starting 0-0 in St. Louis helps.
NO. 6 SOUTHERN ILLINOIS VS. NO. 3 NORTHERN IOWA
When: 8:35 p.m. Friday
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (13-18)
Coach: Barry Hinson
Tournament titles: 1977, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2006
Best non-conference win: 66-58 vs. Ball State
Why fans drive 101 miles to the Scottrade Center: It’s the shortest drive of the MVC schools and the Salukis are interesting enough to make it worthwhile. It’s the first time since 2009 they start on Friday.
Players to watch: G Anthony Beane moved to point guard and the switch paid off big. He averaged an MVC-best 22.6 points in the past nine games, making 23 of 50 three-pointers and 36 of 41 free throws. G Desmar Jackson takes away almost half the court when he plays atop SIU’s zone defense and is a smooth scorer.
Can Southern Illinois get to the final: Yes. The Salukis are 6-3 in their past nine games with the losses on the road to the top three seeds. They split with UNI and Indiana State, beating the Sycamores by 19 points on Jan. 29. SIU hits the offensive boards hard. Poor foul shooting (67.5 percent) is a problem.
NORTHERN IOWA (16-14)
Coach: Ben Jacobson
Tournament titles: 2004, 2009, 2010
Best non-conference win: 77-68 vs. Virginia Commonwealth
Why fans drive 367 miles to the Scottrade Center: Outside of WSU, UNI is the MVC’s hottest team. Surely, Panther fans can get excited about the chance to ruin Wichita State’s perfect season on Sunday.
Players to watch: C Seth Tuttle made his case for All-MVC over the past nine games, averaging 17.4 points, making 59.1 percent of his shots, and grabbing 7.4 rebounds. G Wes Washpun is a blur who discovered his outside shot and averages 3.8 assists.
Can Northern Iowa get to the final: Yes. The Panthers won three in a row and 5 of 6 entering the tournament, averaging nine turnovers during that span. They shot 40 percent or better from three in four of those games.