March 7-10 Scottrade Center (St. Louis, Mo.) | Bracket
Creighton rallied from a game back with two matchups to play to swipe the regular-season title away from Wichita State, handling the Shockers at home in the season finale to claim the crown. Both teams look like they will be in the NCAA tournament, so the main focus in the Loo will be on whether an outsider can steal the auto bid and make the at-large pool for the NCAAs a bit unhappier. Given that the Bluejays won the league outright with five losses and there is enormous parity up and down the league table, it wouldn't be a surprise at all if one of the top two seeds got picked off before the title game. Any of the top six seeds have a not-impossible chance of winning the event.
Key Matchup: No. 3 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Illinois State
The Redbirds looked like an extremely dangerous team in nonleague play, and then somehow started 0-6 in the MVC. They finished at 8-10, with a win over Creighton, and a hideous giveaway loss to Wichita State at home in the mix, too. They draw the Panthers, who swept the season series and also just beat Illinois State by eight at home in the season finale. UNI split both season series with Creighton and Wichita State, so they would be a very challenging semifinal matchup for the Shockers, if that's how things work out. The winner of this game may be the biggest threat to watching at-larges elsewhere.
Team to Watch: Evansville
That said, don't overlook the Aces on Creighton's side of the bracket, either. They closed the season very impressively, routing Illinois State and Indiana State at home around an upset road win at Wichita State that helped cost the Shockers a piece of the league crown. They also have high-usage, high-effectiveness star Colt Ryan and two other capable shooters from the arc. Evansville gave Creighton an excellent game at home on Feb. 16, as well.
Hottest Storyline: Shoot to thrill
As KenPom notes in his Log5 preview of the tournament, Creighton could complete an extremely impressive shooting double, leading the nation in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage. As much as the Bluejays are a better defensive team than last season, that defense has started to buckle badly down the stretch. They have been lit up (in points per possession terms) in six of their final 10 regular-season games. Perhaps conference foes have them scouted better than NCAA tournament opponents can on short notice, but the Jays are still going to have to ride their offense as far as they can take it.
The Pick: Creighton
They have an All-American and a history of ruling this tournament. With the good vibes of having recovered to win the outright regular-season crown, maybe the good vibes will continue. I think they're also benefiting from having Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State all in the other half of the bracket. That said, anything from a semifinal exit on up is in play in this crazy Valley season.