Five players to watch
- Rachael Hackbarth, Drake
No one has dominated the MVC like Hackbarth this season. The do-it-all center leads the conference in points (19.3) and rebounds (11.7). She also tops the NCAA in double-doubles with 22. Watch out if she takes over the paint.
- Casey Garrison, Missouri State
As Garrison goes, so do the Bears. Garrison has been filling up the stat sheet, averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game en route to a regular-season MVC title for MSU. All eyes will be on her to lead the Bears.
- Jamie Russell, Illinois State
Russell has been instrumental in the Redbirds’ second-place finish in the MVC. Not only has Russell been an efficient scorer for ISU (she’s shooting 80 percent from the charity stripe and 44.7 percent from the field), but she’s been their best ball-handler and playmaker.
- K.K. Armstrong, Northern Iowa
Armstrong is the ultimate floor general for the Panthers. Armstrong is third in the conference with 3.9 assists per game and gets it done on the glass, cleaning up 5.3 boards per contest. She also averages 12.9 points per game.
- Sarah Nelson, Creighton
Carli Tritz might lead the team in scoring, but it’s the big center that sets the tempo for the Bluejays. For a team that likes to shoot the 3-point ball and use dribble-drive penetration, it needs Nelson (12.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg) to command the middle.
- Missouri State
The Bears went on a sizzling 11-game winning streak to claim the MVC’s regular-season title. The Bears did lose their regular-season finale in ugly fashion, falling 86-69 at home to lowly Bradley. But Missouri State had clinched the title and had little to play for. Don’t expect a letdown performance like that in St. Charles, Mo.
- Illinois State
The Redbirds consistently lingered around the top of the MVC standings all season. After a solid 6-3 start in conference play, the Redbirds followed that with a 7-2 mark in their second slate of conference games to finish second in the Valley at 13-5. The Redbirds have won four of five heading into the tourney.
- Wichita State
Despite finishing 12-6 and third in the Valley, the Shockers stumbled to the finish line, losing three of their last four games. They easily beat UNI in their regular-season finale, but after a 7-0 start to conference play, the Shockers went 5-6 the rest of the way.
It’s been a long year for the Purple Aces. Evansville finished dead last in the Valley with a dismal 2-16 conference record. They will take on Drake in the opening round of the tournament, riding a six-game losing streak. The Bulldogs have defeated them twice already this season.