ST. LOUIS — The sport of basketball is a secondary topic to the politics and economics of basketball this weekend at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Creighton’s future as a conference member overshadows everything.
But nobody has told commissioner Doug Elgin that Creighton is leaving. And until somebody does, he considers the Jesuit school a valued member. The Valley is prepared should it need to regroup without Creighton, which rejoined the conference in 1976. Should a spot open up, the MVC is ready to give school presidents recommendations on schools that fit geographically and with a commitment to men’s basketball.
“We have done a significant amount of research,” Elgin said. “I am absolutely adamant about the fact we are not defined by one institution, or two institutions.”
Creighton, according to numerous reports from ESPN and other outlets, is expected to receive an invitation to join the seven Catholic schools who finalized their separation from the Big East football schools on Friday. The Catholic schools will retain the Big East name and tournament in Madison Square Garden. Xavier, Butler (private, not Catholic) Saint Louis and Dayton are also mentioned as possible additions.
Elgin said he feels solid about Evansville’s future in the MVC. Twice in recent months, Evansville officials were forced to deny published reports that school considered leaving the MVC for the Horizon League.
“They’re committed,” he said. “I’m not absolutely certain we’re going to lose any members. There is so much about membership in our league that is positive. We’re major. We’re not mid-major.”
Valley and school officials maintain men’s basketball and geography are the two top criteria for any new member. MVC officials will dig into budgets, attendance, history of performance and all-sports strength while evaluating candidates.
“We’re not a football conference,” Elgin said. “We have a focus on men’s and women’s basketball.”
The private-public mix is something to be considered. The Valley has four private schools and six public. Maintaining those numbers is not a necessity. A story in USA Today that listed Belmont, Loyola (Ill.) Denver and Oral Roberts as candidates puzzled Elgin, who said that information didn’t come from him.
“It’s a factor, but I can’t even remember a single issue that has been divided on public and private institutional lines,” Elgin said.
Time for two — Elgin is confident that Friday’s results locked the MVC into at least two NCAA Tournament bids. Top-seeded Creighton and second-seeded Wichita State survived quarterfinal games to avoid tarnishing their at-large resumes.
Saturday’s results enhanced the resumes. One team will earn the automatic bid on Sunday. The other should earn an at-large spot.
“I thought it was critical to get off on the right foot for both teams,” he said. “I think both are in good shape.”
Three-game losing streaks caused both schools to lose ground in seeding in bracket projections. Creighton and WSU appear ticketed for the 7-10 range, which likely means a third-round game against a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. While not ideal, those matchups don’t bother Elgin as much as in other seasons.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s an elite segment of the high majors that is head and shoulders above the others,” he said.
The matchup is a dream for the MVC, both for attendance and for the CBS cameras. Saturday’s semifinals drew 18,262 — second in tournament history to 22,612 in 2007. That season also set the championship record, with 22,612 watching Creighton and Southern Illinois.
Keep on playing — Northern Iowa may be headed for its second trip to the NIT after Friday’s quarterfinal loss to Illinois State.
“I think the performance the guys have put in gets us either in the NIT and or an awfully serious look,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “Non-conference strength of schedule is inside the top 15. We did what we were supposed to do from a scheduling standpoint.”
The Panthers (18-14) finished third in the MVC with an 11-7 record and beat first-place Creighton and second-place WSU. Its power ranking (RPI) slotted No. 85 includes a 3-5 record against the top 50 and no losses worse than 200.
UNI made its first trip to the NIT last season and defeated St. Joseph’s before losing at Drexel.