If there’s such a thing as “celebrity bracketology,” ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, NCAA.com’s Andy Katz and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports fill those roles.
And, at the midweek mark, they all agree: Drake still warrants an at-large seat at the NCAA Tournament table. But, they all say the Bulldogs are in a chair with a wobbly leg — one wrong shift at Arch Madness could send them tumbling to the NIT.
PlayIA provides all the March Madness odds.
Across the board, the bracketologists project Drake as one of the very last at-large recipients, meaning they’d have a “First Four“ game to reach the round of 64.
Selection Sunday is more than a week away, however. For now, the Bulldogs can’t afford a one-and-done at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, which begins today (March 4) in St. Louis.
As the No. 2 seed, Drake is already into Friday’s quarterfinal round and will await the winner of No. 7 seed Northern Iowa and No. 10 seed Illinois State.
Drake’s odds match their seed. They are the second choice to win Arch Madness (+325) behind Loyola Chicago (-280) at William Hill Sportsbook.
How to time your MVC bets
Here’s a look at the MVC Tournament seeds and pairings in St. Louis:
Thursday, March 4
- 5 p.m. — (8) Bradley vs. (9) Southern Illinois
- 8 p.m. — (7) UNI vs. (10) Illinois State
Friday, March 5
- 11 a.m. — (1) Loyola Chicago vs. Bradley-Southern Illinois winner
- 2 p.m. — (4) Indiana State vs. (5) Evansville
- 5 p.m. — (2) Drake vs. UNI-Illinois State winner
- 8 p.m. — (3) Missouri State vs. (6) Valparaiso
Saturday, March 6
- Noon — Semifinal one
- 3 p.m. — Semifinal two
Sunday, March 7
- 1:10 p.m. — Championship on CBS
UNI faces long odds to find ‘Madness’
UNI was the preseason favorite to win the MVC but its fortunes changed Dec. 13, when the program announced that junior point guard AJ Green would undergo season-ending hip surgery. He was the reigning MVC Player of the Year.
At about the same time, sophomore guard Antwon Kimmons was granted an indefinite leave of absence to “work through some of the many challenges presented by the current pandemic.”
The Panthers (9-15, 7-11 in the MVC) avoided extended losing streaks, but the team couldn’t string together enough wins to dodge one of Thursday’s play-in games for the bottom four teams.
The Missouri Valley Conference’s customized pandemic scheduling has created a quirk for UNI’s game against Illinois State (7-17, 4-14). The teams just finished back-to-back games with the Panthers winning a pair down in Normal, IL. Scores were 70-56 Friday and 94-87 in double overtime Saturday.
Illinois State vs. UNI odds
Even though they are the seventh seed, William Hill NCAAB odds gives the Panthers the fifth-best odds to claim the MVC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. As of Wednesday:
- Loyola Chicago (-280)
- Drake (+325)
- Missouri State (+800)
- Indiana State (+1200)
- UNI (+6000)
- Evansville (+6000)
- Valparaiso (+6000)
- Bradley (+7500)
- Southern Illinois (+10000)
- Illinois State (+15000)
They like Bradley a little more over at Betfred Sportsbook, but the top four are the same:
- Loyola Chicago (-175)
- Drake (+200)
- Missouri State (+600)
- Indiana State (+1200)
- Bradley (+3300)
- UNI (+4000)
- Evansville (+5000)
- Valparaiso (+5000)
- Southern Illinois (+10000)
- Illinois State (+10000)
UNI leads the all-time series 36-44 over the Redbirds. Illinois State has won six of 10 when the teams play in Arch Madness, however. Another bad trend for the Panthers: They are 1-5 as the No. 7 seed in St. Louis.
Drake’s must-win task
Drake (24-3, 15-3 in the MVC) damaged its postseason outlook with a 67-61 loss at Bradley over the weekend. Coach Darian DeVries said:
“Obviously we’re extremely disappointed with the outcome. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively (Saturday) and never found any flow or rhythm. We’re just disappointed. It was obviously a big game for us, and the guys have fought so hard all year and left it all out there to the end, but we just didn’t have enough.”
The Bulldogs face the UNI-Illinois St. winner Friday, and the Bulldogs have sweeps over both teams during the regular season. DeVries said he let his team rest before they set their sights on the conference tournament.
“We’ve got some tired bodies. Like I told them (Saturday), I’m so proud of them. I know how much they’re hurting tonight. We’ve got to make sure to turn the page and get excited to go down to St. Louis and go win some games. That’s got to be our mindset, and I know our guys will approach it that way.”
Among Missouri Valley Conference teams, Loyola Chicago is +1150 to reach the Final Four while Drake is +2000 according to DraftKings. Northern Iowa is listed at +10000.
March Madness for the MVC winner
NCAA Tournament organizers will put all 68 teams in a “bubble” for March Madness.
Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts) will set up two courts. Other sites include Bankers Life Fieldhouse (home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers), Hinkle Fieldhouse (Butler University), Indiana Farmers Coliseum (on the Indiana State Fairgrounds), Mackey Arena (Purdue’s Court in West Lafayette) and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington (Indiana University’s court).
The NCAA says only one game at a time will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Key dates to know from the NCAA:
- Selection Sunday — 5 p.m. Sunday, March 14
- First Four — 3 p.m. start on Thursday, March 18
- First round — 11 a.m. start on Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20
- Second round — 11 a.m. start on Sunday, March 21, and Monday, March 22
- Sweet 16 — 1 p.m. start on Saturday, March 27, and noon start on Sunday, March 28
- Elite Eight — 6 p.m. start on Monday, March 29, and 5 p.m. start on Tuesday, March 30
- Final Four — 4 p.m. start on Saturday, April 3
- NCAA Championship game — 8 p.m. Monday, April 5
No NCAA for Drake? NIT will happen this year
Drake won’t necessarily be left out in the cold if they aren’t one of the 37 teams in line for an at-large NCAA ticket. From NCAA.com:
“The 2021 National Invitation Tournament will feature 16 teams with all games being played in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The decision to conduct the NIT in one geographic location was made with the interests of having a safe and healthy environment for all participants.”
ESPNU will televise the NIT Selection show at 7:30 p.m. on Selection Sunday. Of note, from the NCAA:
- First-round games will be played Wednesday, March 17, through Saturday, March 20.
- Quarterfinals will take place Thursday, March 25.
- The semifinals and championship will take place Saturday and Sunday, March 27-28.
- 2021 also will feature a third-place game Sunday, March 28, which hasn’t been played at the NIT since 2003.
- All 16 games of the 2021 NIT will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.