Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/28/2006 10:07:00 AM
The Valley Isn't Fading Away
Spencer Laurie and his Missouri St. teammates pulled off an impressive victory over Wisconsin on Friday.
A recent history of the Missouri Valley Conference, in five, one-quote acts: Act I: Denigration
Selection Sunday, 2006, minutes after the NCAA tournament selection committee has granted a record four Valley teams bids into the big dance:
CBS' Jim Nantz: "Something has gone haywire with this computer system ... I mean, the ACC and the Big 12 generated the same number of bids as the Missouri Valley? I don't buy it."
Act II: Rebuttal
In the days after Selection Sunday, figures from the NCAA and Missouri Valley react to statements that their bids were unjustified -- despite the fact that the league was ranked sixth overall in RPI, ahead of the Pac-10.
Bradley coach Jim Les: "I think a lot of this fallout comes from a lack of knowledge. It's coming from guys that have watched our teams play a game or half a game. They don't see us as much as the teams from the bigger conferences. The Valley is a tremendous basketball league, filled with good players and coaches. We're doing everything we can to get better, and hopefully a year like this can help us break down barriers and perceptions."
Act III: Dissent
In a snub largely ignored due to the furor over the league's four bids, a fifth Valley team, 20-8 Missouri State, is left wondering why it was left out of the dance. It had an RPI of 21, the highest ever of an excluded team. Did the committee fear that five bids would really send the anti-Valley crowd into a frenzy? Missouri State coach Barry Hinson: "We really don't know what to do ... we really don't. We're told to play teams that have winning records, play a tough schedule. I want to get mad, but I don't know who to get mad at."
Act IV: Vindication
Within less than a week of Selection Sunday, both No. 7-seeded Wichita State and No. 13-seeded Bradley reach the Sweet 16, appearing on covers of Sports Illustrated. The Shockers knocked off No. 2 Tennessee, while the Braves upset No. 4 Kansas and No. 5 Pitt.
Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon: "I just hope with the success, next year's selection committee instead of taking the eighth place team from a BCS conference will take the second or third team from the Colonial or Missouri Valley or whatever league is having a great year. Those are teams that are hot and have played well all year and deserve to be in this tournament." Act V: Sustainability
It is now late-November of 2006, the first month of the season after what's being called the Year of the Mid-Major, and there is only one conference with two wins over top-10 teams: The Missouri Valley. Over Thanksgiving weekend, No. 24-ranked Wichita State upset No. 6 LSU 57-53 in Baton Rouge. And unranked Missouri State beat No. 7 Wisconsin 66-64 in the South Padre Island Invitational. Missouri State coach Barry Hinson, to SI.com on Monday: "I'm not going to sit here and say we're better than the Big 12, Big Ten or SEC -- because if I did that they would rush in and do a drug test. ... Is this conference going to be as good year in and year out as those leagues? I'm not sure. But the current situation is, we are now, so don't take it for granted, and don't discredit us. We had a great year last year and we're off to a great start this year."
MISSOURI VALLEY: 2006-07
BIG WINS (road/neutral court games unless noted)
Bradley 78, DePaul 58*
Missouri State 66, Wisconsin 64
Southern Illinois 69, Minnesota 53
Bradley 101, Rutgers 72
Wichita State 57, LSU 53
Illinois State 78, St. John's 65
Creighton 58, George Mason 56
Southern Illinois 69, Virginia Tech 64
Washington 70, Northern Iowa 61
Indiana 73, Indiana State 66
Oklahoma State 73, Missouri State 70 OT
Illinois 75, Bradley 71
* home game
If you wrote the Valley's success off in the 2006 NCAA tournament as a fluke, or if the sight of multiple MVC teams in SI's Top 16 made you angry ... were you paying attention on Friday and Saturday?
Hinson's Bears held Wisconsin to 13 percent shooting from long distance, and shot 63 percent from the floor in the first half. Wichita State was actually called the "more physical" team by Tigers coach John Brady. It was the Shockers' second win over a Final Four squad in eight days -- they beat George Mason, also on the road, on Nov. 18.
On Kyle Whelliston's mid-majority.com, the list of "upsets" -- games in which a team from outside the biggest eight conferences (BCS plus Conference USA, Mountain West and Gonzaga) has beaten one of the establishment -- reached 44 as of Nov. 26. At the same time last year it was 30. The Valley is responsible for seven of those -- in addition to a trio of narrow, "quality losses." (See chart.)
The reality, for the second straight season, is that the Valley is at least a four-bid league, and its status as the flagship of the mid-majors is in jeopardy -- because it's no longer acting like a mid-major conference. It's superior to the C-USA, which has one elite team (Memphis), but could easily be a one-bid league. If Wichita State continues to beat ranked opponents (next up is Syracuse, on Dec. 2) and cracks the top 10, and either Southern Illinois or Missouri State can enter the top 25, who's to say that the Valley isn't on par with the Big Ten or Big 12?
I caught up with Hinson on Monday after he and his team had returned from Texas; they lost the South Padre final, in overtime, to Oklahoma State. Reports from the Wisconsin upset had described his Bears as businesslike -- and he said they were following orders: "We told our players, we're going down there to win two basketball games, and when we do, or if we don't, we're not going to act like a bunch of idiots. This is a team that went to the elite eight of the NIT and won 22 games last year. I know the old saying, expect to win -- and even though we were playing the No. 7 team in the country and one of the best in the Big 12, we did."
What I found more interesting was how much Hinson said his players genuinely care about how other MVC teams are faring in the non-conference season. In November, December and on Bracket Buster Saturday in February, Valley camaraderie does exist. When Hinson's phone buzzed with the news Southern Illinois had beaten Virginia Tech -- he gets text messages of all the Valley scores -- he heard his players talking about it on the bus almost simultaneously. They were following the Wichita State-LSU game on the ESPN ticker in their hotel, rejoicing at the result.
Last year was much of the same: "I can remember us sitting at Chili's in the Chicago airport after beating Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Bracket Buster [on Feb. 18]," he said. "We were dying over every shot in the Wichita State-George Mason game on TV. And then we got home and stayed up to watch Creighton beat Fresno State. This league sticks together."
Missouri State is going to have trouble replicating its RPI resume from '05-06, when it didn't lose to a team lower than No. 45, finished with the highest RPI in the Valley (21) ... and was still relegated to the NIT. "We won't ever get over that," said Hinson. "I think the Dixie Chicks have a song out right now that says, 'Forgive, sounds good, but forget [I'm not sure I could].' We can forgive. But that'll never be forgotten."
You have to think the win over Wisconsin, which shouldn't finish lower than third in the Big Ten, will have a bigger impact than any RPI numbers in the selection committee's mind. If the Bears can take care of business in the Valley, they'll get into the dance -- and that should ease their pained memories.
Missouri State was unfairly left out last year. The national pundits, Digger Phelps, etc., just can't accept that conferences outside the BCS deserve at large bids. Times, they are a changing. The Missouri Valley Conference schedules quality opponents, year in and year out, despite the reluctance, and outright refusal of BCS conference schools to schedule them home and home or even on neutral site. (Kudos to LSU for scheduling Wichita State, as an exception). That failure, and the scheduling of cupcake non-conference opponents, has tilted the balance of power away from BCS schools. Gary Williams, if your reading this, schedule a few MVC schools. The resulting losses would raise your RPI. Every coach in the valley, all ten, called Gary, and received not one reply. March madness 2007 is going to be alot of fun. Especially since 4 or 5 valley teams will be dancing.
As for Jay Bilas & his comments...he will contradict himself - more than likely THIS WEEK. Two points to ponder:
Quote: BILAS... Youth vs. Experience: Most really good mid-majors have juniors and seniors, and a couple of key players who are fifth-years after transferring in or redshirting. The really good mid-majors have experience -- and experience playing together -- and that provides an important component to the equation. Most majors cannot keep their best players for four years, let alone five. As freshmen and sophomores, these players are subject to lapses, no matter how talented they are. As I have said many times, I will take experience and talent over superior talent every time. Many of these older players are smarter because of the minutes they have played at that level, and that often carries the day when talent is in the same ballpark.
The BCSers have allowed their GREED to promote hoarding the best & brightest...but rather than ride pine, some kids have defected to the non-BCS community, but the best follow Kobe, Tracy, & Lebron - to the land of Milk and Dollars (NBA). These kids figure they don't NEED college, or at least not for long. The BCSers and the media have promoted this situation for years. Now the 'experience' of the non-BCS teams is kicking their butts and they whine about it.
IT IS A BIG DEAL to beat the BCSers! The POLLS DO COUNT...if not, why have 'em at all. The media talking heads want to discount non-BCS success in an attempt to maintain status quo. UNC-Duke-KU-Wisc and others merely dropped a few spots in the polls. It took over 3 weeks to get BC & Tenn out of the polls. Syracuse has yet to play anyone of note/yet to lv the Carrierdome! Ohio St beat Youngstown St (Oooohh!). Creighton lost to Nebr and 'You're Outta Here-Gone in 60 Seconds'... to the bottom of the also receiving votes. PARITY - Yeah right!
Quote: gtmoBlue. The Greed of the BIGs - via consolidation into Mega Conferences - for the bucks has been a Major Factor in allowing we nonBCSers to grab a few more bids... SWAC/Big 8 = Big 12, and my personal Favorite - CUSA/Big East =MegaloEast (they want how many? Post season bids!! ) and to a lesser extent the A-10, ACC, & SEC.
They figured they would squeeze out another 10-15 bids via these considation efforts. Thank God the Selection Cmte hasn't bought it, thus far. Now the BCSers want Tourney expansion to 'guarantee' another 25 bids. You can be sure that 15-20 of these potential 'new' bids will go to the BCS middle of the pack teams (MD - Wake - Illini - Tennessee - Stanford - 'Cuse - 'Nova, etc.) when they finally push the measure through. Its' not enough that the sports world (& the NCAA itself) is shaped in their image, caters to their every desire, and tells them (Gary Wms) how Great they are. Their greed demands they squeeze every drop of life/revenue out of the sport. They had their cake and wanted to eat it too. But as the old adage goes: Every dog has its day, LET "EM EAT CAKE NOW! Go non-BCS Leagues!
Luke, thanks for shedding light on the Missouri Valley. Maybe next time the networks will pay attention and I won't have to listen to the Badger game on the radio while wondering where the hell one can get ahold of CSTV!
to gtmoBlue...you can rant, but get the facts right. The Big 8 merged with the Southwest Conference (SWC), not the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC). Don't forget that money drives it all, and CBS did not shell out the megabucks for exclusive March Madness/NCAA Tournament television rights to broadcasts the most deserving teams, but more like the teams that help get the best ratings, be it the "Cinderella" angle, or the ol' name recognition angle...
In your power losses, you forgot to include Southern Illinois' loss to Arkansas. The Salukis should have won the game but missed a free throw at the end of the game and they lost their big guys in overtime. Face it Billy Packer, the MVC is for real whether you want to admit it or not.
Can you really call the Valley a mid major conference anymore? Ever since the days when Tulsa was a perenial March Madness tough draw the Valley has been very good. I am not the least bit surprised that the Valley is doing so well overall. Also, look at all the high profle coaches that have come from the Valley the last several years. Bruce Weber, Tubby Smith, and so on...It is a quality league with quality coaching and players. No surprise that these ingredients make for a tremendous conference.
Speaking as a Kansas fan and observer of the Valley, I can tell you that I'm not impressed with the Jayhawk's pre conference schedule. Last night, the Hawks beat up on Dartmouth by 50 points or so. They've played one quality opponent and handled them(Florida). It doesn't mean very much if you never really test your program.
Preseason ranked Creighton should not have lost to B12 doormat Nebraska. Even if it is a mini-rival road game there are no excuses. Nebraska was under-manned, new coach, new system. They simply got out-played, out-coached and out-worked.
This was a must-win for Creighton and the MVC and they both blew it!
At 8:44 some moron said that the Creighton game against Nebraska was a "must win". What are you talking about? Why would that be a must win for Creighton? Creighton has a much stronger name in basketball than Nebraska does. In the last several years it is Creighton that has beaten Nebraska, they needed this win far more than Creighton did.
I had forgotten that about Missouri State until now. How the NCAA can justify doing anything tourney or just ranking-wise with the RPI after that is beyond me. With 64 spots how in the world does the 21st ranked (according to them) team not get in? I know you have to spread the wealth between the conferences, but don’t start thinking about that until at least after the top 25. The only thing that was lacking in the article was a little bit of respect for the BIG EAST and other big conferences when they show what happens to "powerhouses" like Louisville & Cincy with formerly automatic high seeds coming from Conference USA into a real conference. I think besides Wichita State most of the Valley would fare about the same, though I agree that the Valley doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. And to everyone bringing up Maryland in this blog I know you hate Gary and I understand why, but I have one question- Have you seen them play this year? If not you will learn to fear the turtle.
as for the 8:44 moron, most people arent aware that nebraska was coming off an enormous preseason upset to a small D2 team, SIU-Edwardsville (my home university, and the sister-school to D1 SIU-Carbondale). to reiterate "anon" at 11:46, Nebraska needed the win much, much more than creighton. just goes to show a big 12 team probably looking at a win over an mvc team as an upset.
The fact is there are two or three teams every year that are good enough to be in the tournament that are left out. If the field were expanded there still would be teams that you could make an arguement for. there isn't a perfect solution...and the process is much better than it used to be back when only the conference tournament teams were in.
If the MVC is truly a force to be dealt with they will eventually get more respect...if that is what being selected or not is about. The ACC and a few others get more respect because they consistantly win national titles. At this point the ACC teams have probably won more national championships(10)than the MVC has had teams in the sweet 16. The reality of the situation is: if you are just good enough to get in or if you are just left out than winning the chapionship is not going to happen anyway. It's like arguing in football over who gets to play in the bowl game in Boise or not. I say if the MVC feels like it is so great let all the teams in the tournament. Unfortunatly, none of the teams will win the championship. Unfortunatly, winning games in November against the so called powerhouse teams or hitting buzzer beaters to win against powerhouse teams in march in the first couple of rounds only goes so far...you have to go all the way because that is the point.
Blogsmog says that going all the way is the only thing that matters. By that argument, it should matter little if the team selected is the 6th team from the Big Ten or a deserving 2nd team from a midmajor conference, because seeds lower than seven hardly ever win it all. Sure, let's just cap the tournament at 24 teams since we all know those lower seeds won't win ... This argument makes no sense, because being in the dance and winning games is the point - only one team can win it all, but try to tell GMU that being in the final four was meaningless because they didn't win it all, or WSU that their Elite eight game was worthless because they didn't win.
ah so close to the point and put very well. the point is if there are 24 teams or 124 teams there will be at least be a few teams on the outside that could make a good arguement that they were looked over. It doesn't make since to say that a team that is left out would have been able to potentially win a couple of games in the tournament because i bet there are teams with losing records that don't even make the NIT that if thrown into the NCAA tournament could potentially win a some games. the system isn't perfect and at the end of the season too much rests on singular games...and even if the field were 128 teams and it were double elimination with a best 2 out of 3 championship the great fans of the small universities and some large universities would still cry foul.
If i played for GM last year and made the final four i would have more than pleased...but at the same time it only carries so much weight outside of last year. I haven't seen many Wichita State shirts or seen any fans chanting "were number 8! were number 8!" even if they may be thinking it. If going to the final four one year is truly arriving than Florida winning it all last year must have been the greatest moment in the history of college basketball. If anyone thinks that a win over George Mason or any team that was in the final eight last year for that matter at this point in the season is a huge victory there are more than a few things about college basketball that you don't understand. Santa Clara beating UNC a couple of years ago the first game of the season in which they would win the National Championship was quite significant to some people. but not really.
No school currently in the MVC has ever won a the ncaa mens tournament championship. Zero...i know that is shocking. UCLA and UNC alone each have been to the final four 16 times. Maybe from this year and every year after a team from the MVC will win the national championship...i just feel it...and i know by the unoffical hand signal of the Shockers they can feel too. every year for at least the next 50...MVC is so great!