Wichita State’s success in the NCAA Tournament could be a mixed bag for the Valley…
Doug Elgin is having a rough week.
The commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference has just one team to follow when the NCAA Tournament tips off this week, and if Wichita State makes a deep run it’ll probably fuel speculation about the school eventually bolting for another league.
If Elgin does as he’s done in the past, he’ll be with the Shockers in Indianapolis, Ind., when they play Dayton on Friday.
And that’s a smart move, considering Wichita State has been feeling a little lonely.
With a 30-4 record, coach Gregg Marshall was expecting the selection committee to dole out something more than a No. 10 seed and a possible second-round matchup against powerhouse Kentucky.
“I was just glad they didn’t forget about us,” Marshall told reporters Sunday night. “I was starting to think they might forget about us and not put us in at all.”
The Shockers weren’t really nervous after winning the Valley tourney title and securing an automatic bid, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t underappreciated.
Wichita State is making its sixth straight appearance in the 68-team field, a run that includes a Final Four appearance in 2013, but the typical draw has been less than favorable.
The Shockers have only been seeded higher than fifth once, and that came in 2014 when they were slotted at No. 1, which pitted them against a vastly under-seeded Kentucky squad.
In other words, the committee doesn’t show much love for Wichita State or the Valley, as reflected by the fact it snubbed Illinois State (27-6) on Sunday.
The awkward mix of in-conference dominance and a lack of respect nationally is usually discussed whenever people debate the merits of Wichita State leaving the Valley.
It doesn’t seem as if Marshall and company are set on mimicking Gonzaga’s formula for success, ruling mid-major conference on an annual basis and becoming a perennial Big Dance invitee.
One reason is, Gonzaga’s rivals in the West Coast Conference are better.
Saint Mary’s and Brigham Young each recorded more than 20 wins this season, and regularly show up on NCAA brackets.
Illinois State has not participated in college basketball’s premier event since 1998. Northern Iowa, the Valley’s second-best program over the past decade, finished 14-16 this winter.
So, Elgin is in a no-win situation. If Wichita State reaches the Sweet 16, it’ll add to the perception that it’s outgrowing the Valley. If the Shockers lose this weekend, some will say a lack of competition is bringing them down.
One way out of this conundrum is for everyone else in the Valley to step up its game, starting with an emphasis on scheduling.
The Redbirds were bounced off the bubble because their only win against a top-50 RPI opponent came at home against Wichita State. Arranging more games against other NCAA contenders would enhance their resume.
More aggressive scheduling by others in the league could boost the Valley’s own standing in the RPI. The conference was once among the top 10, and is now around 12th or 13th.
Elgin can plead his case for scheduling upgrades in the coming months. For now, all he can do is watch how things unfold the next few weeks and hope that if Wichita State starts busting brackets it doesn’t destabilize his conference.