ST. LOUIS–The big question as Illinois State fans arrive in St. Louis for Friday night’s opening game of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) tournament: Can the Redbirds repeat last year’s exciting run to the championship game?

The STATEside crew caught up with Illinois State University President Al Bowman on Friday morning at the MVC Hall of Fame induction breakfast. How does he like the Redbirds’ chances in the MVC tourney?

“This team is certainly inconsistent, but that inconsistency can really surprise us,” Bowman said.

The No. 6-seed Redbirds play their opening game of Arch Madness at 8:35 p.m. Friday against No. 3 Northern Iowa. If they win, they’d play again Saturday afternoon. The championship game is Sunday on CBS.

The team “came on with a vengeance” during the Arch Madness tournament last year, Bowman said, exceeding everyone’s expectations. The ’Birds pushed Creighton to overtime in the nationally televised MVC championship game—falling just short of an NCAA tournament bid—and then played in the NIT.

“I don’t think they’ve got traction yet, and they certainly don’t have consistency,” Bowman said, referring to Illinois State’s up-and-down Valley play this season. “But if they’re ‘on,’ they are capable of winning this entire tournament.”

Bowman, who announced in December his plans to retire in 2013, and his wife, Linda Bowman ’81, M.S. ’83, were honored at Friday’s Hall of Fame breakfast for their contributions to the Valley.

Valley commissioner Doug Elgin praised Bowman’s tireless efforts to boost Illinois State’s academic standards and his commitment to major renovation projects on campus.

“And there’s no question of their passion for the Redbirds,” Elgin said.

Bowman says his favorite basketball moments as Redbird Fan in Chief have both been buzzer-beaters: Jackie Carmichael’s ESPN-worthy 3-pointer to beat Evansville in January 2012, and Alexis Jenkins’ game-winning basket with seven-tenths of a second left over Wichita State last month.

But expect to see Bowman at plenty of games after his retirement. He plans to teach part-time, travel more, and “just really enjoy college life,” and that includes plenty of athletic events.

For now, he’s in St. Louis, cheering on the ’Birds on Friday night and all weekend long.

“Whether they win or not, we’re staying till Sunday,” Bowman said. “The entire (Arch Madness) atmosphere is really special. The venue is great. Linda and I will be part of it the rest of our lives.”

STATEside is reporting from the MVC tournament for as long the Redbirds are playing. Follow all the action on Illinois State Athletics’ Tournament Central page or here on STATEside.

Ryan Denham can be reached at