Quarterfinal: Wichita State 80, Evansville 58
Semifinal: Wichita State 67, Missouri State 42
Championship: Wichita State 83, Indiana State 69
Record: WSU 34-0
Wichita State entered February 22-0 and coming off of a below-average performance in a 57-45 home win over Loyola. A season-defining trip to Indiana State and Northern Iowa loomed. On Feb. 1, it’s possible to wonder if an unbeaten team can get better. The Shockers did, largely by improving on offense. Tekele Cotton turned back into a good jump-shooter for a second February/March in a row. Darius Carter adjusted to the physical defenses in the MVC. Ron Baker’s sprained left ankle improved. WSU shot 48.9 percent over the final nine games (five on the road) of the MVC schedule after shooting 42.7 in the first nine. It followed that by making 48.5 percent of its shots in St. Louis. It scored 80 points seven times in the past 12 games after topping 80 once (against reeling Southern Illinois in the Valley opener) in the first nine MVC games.Cotton’s hot streak is the biggest factor in the rise. He went 4 for 23 from three-point range from Jan. 5 to Jan. 28. In February and March, he is 28 of 57 (49.1 percent). Last season, he made 12 of 21 threes (57.1) in the final nine MVC games and backed that up by making 7 of 18 (38.9 percent) in nine post-season games. “Tekele is just playing with a lot of confidence,” Baker said. “When he can do that, it opens up other assets of your game.” Cotton isn’t just an improved jump shooter. He regularly sinks a floater when he drives. He usually makes good decisions to pass when he drives and rarely makes turnovers.WSU has won 21 straight games against MVC competition, the longest streak I can find since Indiana State won 20 during the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons.WSU’s Fred VanVleet will have competition for Player of the Year the next two seasons. Evansville guard D.J. Balentine is even better than I remembered from the regular season and he will put up big numbers the next two seasons.Where does the MVC go from here? Indiana State is a borderline NIT team. Other schools (with winning records) are debating if they want to sink $20-30,000 or so into hosting a CBI or CIT game. The Valley desperately needs a bounce-back season in 2014-15. I think it will improve. Evansville, Loyola, Illinois State and Northern Iowa played few or no seniors. They should improve. Missouri State and Southern Illinois will lose key seniors, but return enough good players that the trend is good. Indiana State takes a major hit, but coach Greg Lansing is capable of keeping the Sycamores competitive. Drake continues its rebuild after losing three senior starters. Bradley loses its two best players and coach Geno Ford needs to get his program back on track after a 12-20 season in this third season.The MVC will get better as those teams vacate the 200-plus range of the RPI. The MVC doesn’t need Evansville to be a top-50 team, it just needs it to be No. 125 instead of No. 209. I think those upgrades will happen. It is less clear which team or teams might move into the top 50 range and provide WSU a real challenge. Those MVC schools must build deeper rosters to push WSU, especially in the front court. While most MVC teams possess two or three players capable of matching the Shockers, I suspect some coaches look down their bench and feel the need for a significant recruiting upgrade.SIU’s win on Friday was a big win for the MVC. Saluki fans are the best bet to fill the seats vacated by Creighton. SIU has a recent history of success and its fans will fill the Scottrade Center given a good reason. The Salukis finished the regular season strong and upset third-seeded Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals and pushed second-seeded Indiana State in the semifinal. SIU fans should be optimistic heading into 2014-15 with the emergence of sophomore guard Anthony Beane as a star.The MVC Tournament is locked in at Scottrade Center for one more season. The Valley has already sent out RFP’s (request for proposals) to interested cities. Representatives from the Kansas City Sports Commission checked out things this weekend. Chicago and Indianapolis may also be interested. It would not be easy for the MVC to leave all it’s established in St. Louis and I don’t expect it to happen. Taking a look around makes sense. If nothing else, perhaps the MVC can leverage new shot clocks from the Scottrade Center.