Sports

Wild Weekend Puts the ‘Madness’ in Arch Madness

This season’s Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) men’s basketball tournament lived up to its name: Arch Madness. The tournament had a historically wild weekend and featured many upsets, including a Loyola loss in the quarterfinals.

The tournament featured an unprecedented level of upsets and chaos. For starters, the University of Northern Iowa was the heavy favorite but got bounced in its first game by Drake University and its MVC All-Tournament team honoree Liam Robbins in the quarterfinal round March 6. That was the first time in the tournament’s 33-year history the No. 1 seed had failed to reach the semifinals.

And the madness only increased from there. Later that night, No. 7-seeded Valparaiso University used a furious second-half comeback to upset No. 2-seeded Loyola. The Ramblers became just the second No. 2 seed to not reach the semifinal stage, joining 1998 No. 2 seed Creighton University.

After the game, Loyola head coach Porter Moser blamed the loss on the team’s poor free throw shooting. The Ramblers shot 14-for-27 from the foul line against the Crusaders — a 51.9 percent clip. This was well below their regular-season average of 65.6 percent, which ranked last in the MVC by more than 5 percent.

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Porter Moser watches on as his squad loses to Valparaiso University 74-73 in overtime March 6.

“It’s tough because now you’ve got to go in the offseason with that taste in your mouth,” Moser said. “But we’ve been skating on thin ice for many, many games with this free-throw shooting, and tonight it caught us.”

No. 3-seeded Indiana State University also lost in the quarterfinal stage, falling to No. 6-seeded Missouri State University 78-51. This is the first time in the history of the MVC Tournament that all of the top three seeds failed to advance to the semifinal stage.

The Crusaders’ improbable run didn’t stop with their win over Loyola. Valparaiso edged out an 89-82 victory over Missouri State to secure a spot in the Arch Madness championship game March 8. The Crusaders became the first team in MVC history to advance to the championship game after being in the play-in games to get to the quarterfinals.

Valparaiso was led by sophomore guard Javon Freeman-Liberty and senior guard John Kiser — both of whom were named to the All-Tournament team. Freeman-Liberty averaged 16.8 points per contest in the four tournament games while Kiser averaged 10.8.

Joining them in the finals was No. 4-seeded Bradley University. The Braves knocked off No. 5-seeded Southern Illinois University and No. 8-seeded Drake on the way to the championship. 

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Bradley senior guard Darrell Brown cuts down the nets after the Braves’ Arch Madness championship victory March 8.

In the final matchup between Valparaiso and Bradley, the Braves defeated the Crusaders 80-66 to win back-to-back MVC titles for the first time in program history. 

Senior guard Darrell Brown averaged 21.6 points in the Braves’ three tournament games, including 21 against the Crusaders. Brown was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Bradley junior forward Elijah Childs was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds in the tournament.

Despite the loss, Valparaiso head coach Matt Lottich said he was proud of the run his team made. He downplayed the impact that fatigue had in the game against Bradley, but said tired legs definitely made an impact.

“Anytime you lay it out on the line like they did, you give your hearts into something and it doesn’t work out, it hurts,” Lottich said. “Some of the adversity that we had to face to make this run, obviously, the four [games] in four [days], that’s difficult.”

Bradley is awaiting its NCAA Tournament seeding, which will be announced during Selection Sunday March 15 at 5 p.m. on CBS.

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