My MVC mole friend paid me another visit in the sparsely populated upper deck during the second half of the last game of the night. He has paid me regular visits during the tournament, providing me with game stats and rosters, a whole stack of media guides I'll probably never read, insider dish from the inner workings of the tournament (which is decent, but not substantiated enough to even dare to write), and most importantly, snacky treats from the media buffet. The brownies are fantastic this year.
I commented on how he can be working for the Valley (on a volunteer basis as usual) and still have time to come up and chat with me during each session. He explained that the conference has so many volunteers, they are able to delegate each person to a very small, yet all equally important, task which leaves each of them quite a bit of free time to enjoy the action.
"Besides," he added, "they've been doing this so long and so much, the thing practically runs itself."
This year's tournament marks the 22nd edition of what is called "Arch Madness," the four-day version of the event held in St. Louis. Plus, in the past 15 years, The Missouri Valley Conference has hosted five NCAA men's tournament regional finals, one first/second round set, the Final Four in 2005, and the Women's Final Four in 2001 and 2009. This conference knows what it's doing, and it knows how to put on a great tournament. This year's version of Arch Madness was no exception. Everything has been nearly flawless in terms on presentation and flow of action.
This year's regional final in St. Louis, however, will be hosted by St. Louis University. It's their first attempt at hosting an event this big. Word has it SLU has reached out to the Valley for some pointers, and the Valley has begrudgingly assisted.
As we talked, Evansville slowly pulled away from the cold-shooting Bears. Colt Ryan and Kenny Harris led the Aces charge as they've done for most of the season; Ryan scoring 19, Harris with 20.
For Missouri State, Kyle Weems, not wanting his senior season to end, tried to single-handedly bring his team back. But, with most single-handed attempts, he could not sustain the effort. Despite his 24 points, Weems' MVC career ended with a 72-64 loss and a 16-16 record. Just a year ago, the Bears were the subject of MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin's almost-annual speech on why the Valley deserved multiple NCAA bids. Now, even a lower ghost bracket berth seems uncertain at best.
My friend went downstairs to perform his post-game duties. I stood after after 11 long hours of basketball, my posterior sore from the long time sitting, but I was certainly richer for the experience made all the better by an army of volunteers running the event that runs itself.