WSU beat writer Paul Suellentrop takes a look at the 10 teams that begin play in St. Louis on Thursday. Teams are listed by seed:
1. WICHITA STATE (26-4, 16-2 MVC)
Coach: Gregg Marshall
Tournament titles: 2 (1987 most recent)
RPI as of Thursday: 10
Best non-conference win: 89-70 vs. UNLV
Players to watch: C Garrett Stutz (14.1 points) must handle double teams to get his teammates open shots. F Ben Smith (9.8 points, 40 percent from three-point range) is a matchup problem, a great outside shooter and a growing threat when posting up smaller players. G Toure Murry (12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds) fills in the gaps, scoring in the lane, passing and defending.
Can WSU win three in a row?: No team is better equipped. The Shockers own three eight-game win streaks this season. The field’s best hope is to stop WSU’s fastbreak and hope it shoots poorly.
2. CREIGHTON (25-5, 14-4)
Coach: Greg McDermott
Tournament titles: 10 (2007)
RPI as of Thursday: 24
Best non-conference win: 85-83 at San Diego State
Players to watch: F Doug McDermott (23.1 points, 8.1 rebounds) makes 47.9 percent of his three-pointers. G Antoine Young (12.3 points) ranks second in the MVC with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. F Ethan Wragge (6.7 points) comes off the bench to make 1.9 threes a game.
Can CU win three in a row?: Creighton’s offense is capable of taking over in St. Louis, especially if the Bluejays dial up their defense. To eliminate Creighton, a team must take them out of the offensive flow. The Jays rank first nationally in shooting percentage (50.8) and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.44).
3. EVANSVILLE (15-14, 9-9)
Coach: Marty Simmons
Tournament titles: 0
RPI as of Thursday: 141
Best non-conference win: 80-77 (OT) vs. Butler
Players to watch: G Colt Ryan (20.5 points) made 169 free throws, 59 more than any other MVC player. F Denver Holmes averaged 14.3 points and made 61.9 (13-21) of his threes in the past eight games.
Can UE win three in a row?: Perhaps, because Ryan could carry the Aces for a game or two. Nobody likes to play the Aces because they score efficiently and play hard for 40 minutes. That combination makes them a threat, but a leaky defense makes a title unlikely.
4. ILLINOIS STATE (18-12, 9-9)
Coach: Tim Jankovich
Tournament titles: 4 (1998)
RPI as of Thursday: 124
Best non-conference win: 76-70 vs. Rutgers in Mexico
Players to watch: F Jackie Carmichael (13.6 points) recorded 11 double-doubles. G Bryant Allen (8.6 points) is an emotional player who comes off the bench willing to shoot threes.
Can ISU win three in a row?: Yes, but with no seniors, it’s tough to see the Redbirds playing well for three straight games. They haven’t won three in a row in Valley play. The talent is there to pull an upset.
5. NORTHERN IOWA (19-12, 9-9)
Coach: Ben Jacobson
Tournament titles: 3 (2010)
RPI as of Thursday: 64
Best non-conference win: 69-62 at Iowa State
Players to watch: C Seth Tuttle (9.4 points) leads the MVC by making 66.3 percent of his shots. G Deon Mitchell (7.1 points) can drive and score when he plays under control. UNI’s shooters need him to set up open shots.
Can UNI win three in a row?: Maybe, based on its 5-2 record in MVC games since Jan. 31. The Panthers rely heavily on the three-pointer and don’t get much scoring from their posts. That makes it tough to win three straight. UNI did split with Creighton and lost to WSU by three points at Cedar Falls.
6. MISSOURI STATE (16-14, 9-9)
Coach: Paul Lusk
Tournament titles: 1 (1992)
RPI as of Thursday: 111
Best non-conference win: 68-46 at Nevada
Players to watch: F Kyle Weems (15.4 points) is capable of taking over a game. G Anthony Downing (11.6) led the Bears in scoring three times in the past five games. F Keith Pickens, slowed by a knee injury, will be challenged by games on consecutive days.
Can MSU win three in a row?: The Bears enter Arch Madness on a four-game losing streak and failed to shoot better than 40 percent in three of those games. MSU doesn’t get to the foul line enough to make a run — its 297 attempts in MVC games ranks last.
7. DRAKE (16-14, 9-9)
Coach: Mark Phelps
Tournament titles: 1 (2008)
RPI as of Thursday: 132
Best non-conference win: 74-65 vs. Iowa State
Players to watch: F Ben Simons (16.2 points) makes 42.6 percent of his threes and 86 percent of his free throws. G Rayvonte Rice (16.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) has 76 turnovers and 45 assists.
Can DU win four in a row?: Not likely, but Drake did win four straight MVC games in mid-January, making it the only team other than WSU and Creighton to do so. The Bulldogs shoot free throws too poorly to survive four straight games.
8. INDIANA STATE (17-13, 8-10)
Coach: Greg Lansing
Tournament titles: 3 (2011)
RPI as of Thursday: 130
Best non-conference win: 61-55 at Vanderbilt
Players to watch: G Jake Odum (10.9 points) is battling plantar fasciitis and a stress fracture. G Dwayne Lathan (12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds) shoots 81.3 percent from the foul line.
Can ISU win four in a row?: No, because it will be tough for Odum to play consecutive games and the Sycamores don’t shoot well enough (42 percent in MVC games) to fight through the bracket. The Sycamores will be a tough out in St. Louis, but asking them to stick around past Saturday is too much.
9. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (8-22, 5-13)
Coach: Chris Lowery
Tournament titles: 5 (2006)
RPI as of Thursday: 255
Best non-conference win: 80-58 vs, SIU-Edwardsville
Players to watch: F Mamadou Seck (13.3 points) leads SIU in rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.6). G Kendal Brown-Surles (7.8 points) has 24 assists and four turnovers in the past eight games.
Can SIU win four in a row?: The Salukis last won four in a row against MVC teams in 2008.
10. BRADLEY (7-24, 2-16)
Coach: Geno Ford
Tournament titles: 2 (1988)
RPI as of Thursday: 259
Best non-conference win: 67-66 at George Washington
Players to watch: G Walt Lemon (12.5 points) is a bright spot, averaging 15.4 points over his past eight games. G Dyricus Simms-Edwards (11.5 points) leads Bradley with 89 assists.
Can BU win four in row?: F Taylor Brown, Bradley’s leading scorer, won’t play due to a toe injury, dooming the Braves to a quick exit and sending Ford to recruit.