The champions of the last two Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournaments played in the Quad-Cities are the top two seeds for this year’s event.
Drake, which finished unbeaten in 18 Missouri Valley regular-season games, will attempt to defend its 2017 conference tourney championship as the top seed for the four-day tournament, which opens Thursday at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline.
Coach Jennie Baranczyk’s Bulldogs have won 40 consecutive regular-season games against Missouri Valley competition and bring a 23-7 overall record into the tournament. The Bulldogs have not lost since dropping a 79-66 game at Iowa on Dec. 21.
"I’m really proud of this team for gutting out a lot of things this year," Baranczyk said. "To be able to win this league in back-to-back years is really a great deal, and we’ll lose sight of that."
Missouri State, which won the 2016 Missouri Valley tourney title, is seeded second and won its last seven conference games to finish league play with a 15-3 record. The Lady Bears are 19-10 on the season.
The only team other than Drake to beat Missouri State in conference play this season, Northern Iowa, is seeded third for this year’s tournament after finishing Missouri Valley play with a 13-5 record. The Panthers, 17-12 overall, enter the postseason on a four-game win streak.
Southern Illinois, the only other team in the conference with a winning overall record, is seeded fourth and will bring a 16-13 record into its tourney opener against fifth-seeded Indiana State.
Drake and Missouri State will take the court in Moline for the first time in this year’s tournament on Friday, playing the winners of Thursday’s opening-round games, and Baranczyk hopes the Bulldogs and their fan base can replicate what they accomplished a year ago, beating UNI 74-69 in overtime.
"Hopefully, we can pack that arena with blue," Baranczyk said. "For us to continue to build our program, it’s important for our fans to come out both in Des Moines and at the tournament, which isn’t that far from home for us."
Missouri Valley newcomer Valparaiso, seeded eighth, faces ninth-seeded Loyola the tournament’s opening game at 4 p.m. on Thursday, a game that precedes a 7 p.m. game between seventh-seeded Bradley and 10th-seeded Evansville.
Drake tips off Friday’s first session with a noon game against the winner of the Valparaiso/Loyola game. Southern Illinois and Indiana State follow at 2:30 p.m.
Missouri State’s first game is at 6 p.m. Friday against either Bradley or Evansville, preceding an 8:30 p.m. game between Northern Iowa and sixth-seeded Illinois State.
Friday’s winners meet in a 1:30 p.m. semifinal session on Saturday, leading into Sunday’s 2 p.m. title game, when the Missouri Valley’s automatic qualifier into the NCAA tourney will be determined.