CARBONDALE — As 14 more teams punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, Bradley's men's basketball team waited to see where it would be headed this week.
The Braves (20-14) won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last weekend for the first time in 31 years to earn the league's automatic bid to the 68-team field. With a 9-9 league record, Bradley won the tournament as a 5 seed after rallying from 18 points down in the second half to down Northern Iowa 57-54 in St. Louis. The Braves' NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) of 174 as of Saturday afternoon, and the Valley's place as the 14th-best league in the country, could give Bradley the worst seed for an MVC champion in history.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com both had the Braves as a 15 seed in the tournament on Saturday. Palm had Bradley taking on second-seeded Michigan (27-5) in Des Moines as part of the West Regional. Lunardi had the Braves playing Michigan State in Des Moines as part of the South Regional. The Valley has never had a 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but has had five No. 14 seeds since the event began seeding every team in 1979.
Most recently, Indiana State was a 14 seed in 2011 and lost to third-seeded Syracuse in the first round. Northern Iowa was a 14 seed in 2004, SIU was a 14 seed in 1993, Illinois State was a 14 in 1990 and Creighton was a 14 seed in 1989. All five teams lost their first games in the NCAA Tournament. Loyola reached the Final Four last season as an 11 seed.
Bradley will find out where it fits in the bracket during today's Selection Special beginning at 5 p.m. on CBS.
The First Four, two No. 11 seeds and two No. 16 seeds that have to win in Dayton, Ohio, to enter the field of 64, will also be announced during the selection special. Wichita State was sent to the First Four in 2016 as an 11 seed and beat Vanderbilt by 20 points. The Shockers beat sixth-seeded Arizona 65-55 but lost to third-seeded Miami (Florida), 65-57.
Bradley hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 2006, when the Braves reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed. Bradley beat fourth-seeded Kansas 77-73 and fifth-seeded Pittsburgh 72-66 before falling 80-64 to top-seeded Memphis. Since 1994, the Valley has had five first-round wins in the tournament as a 12 seed or worse. League teams have won 10 straight first-round games dating back to 2013.
• Bradley apologizes for treatment of beat writer: Hours after a columnist in the Peoria Journal Star outed Bradley's behavior toward longtime beat writer Dave Reynolds, the athletic department issued a tweet apologizing for banning him from a media event Friday.
Reynolds, a three-time Illinois sportswriter of the year who has covered the Braves for 29 years, was denied the ability to interview any players at a Friday media availability. Bradley assistant sports information director Jason Veniskey reportedly told him "You don't promote the Bradley brand and, basically, we don't want you here." After Journal Star columnist Dave Eminian and reporter Nick Vlahos combined on an editorial denouncing the Braves' behavior, Deadspin.com posted a story about it, and columnists from the Chicago Tribune, USA Today and CBS Sports weighed in on Twitter. Several beat writers from the Valley also denounced the move.
Charlie Steiner, a Bradley alum who is the voice of the L.A. Dodgers, also denounced the athletic department's behavior. Saturday afternoon, Bradley Athletics issued an apology via Twitter and said Reynolds would be granted equal access to the team moving forward.
"We recognize that the media is not responsible for promoting the Bradley brand and that was never our expectation," Bradley Athletics tweeted. "We did not handle this situation appropriately, and for that we apologize. Peoria Journal Star reporter Dave Reynolds will have equivalent media access to cover the Braves and Bradley Athletics will continue to work on its relationship with the Peoria Journal Star."