Arch Madness begins tonight. I’ve got Valley fatigue. After watching these teams batter each other for 18 games, I’m down on the MVC. It’s happened in the past. In some seasons, the MVC looks a lot better in post-season than it does during the conference season. Perhaps this is one of those seasons. Perhaps the crowds and excitement in St. Louis will liven things up. There are bound to be some good games. There always are, and I’ve never spoken to a fan who didn’t enjoy the MVC Tournament.
After seeing 10 teams up close from Thursday to Sunday, we can answer the question – Was the close regular-season race a product of parity or mediocrity?
You can make an argument both ways. Six days a week, I’m going to bat for the MVC. There are a lot of programs and coaches who take their basketball seriously and do good jobs, often in difficult circumstances. They’re judged against bigger schools and bigger budgets and hold their own more often than they should. The players, almost without exception, play unselfishly and play hard.
Am I wrong to ask for a little more? My concerns:
Regardless of what happens Sunday, the MVC produced one NCAA Tournament at-large caliber team. That’s not the way it is supposed to be for a conference that made big-money investments in coaches and facilities in recent seasons. The MVC is ninth in the RPI rankings, which isn’t bad and isn’t great. Next season should be better, judging by the youth in starting lineups. That’s what we said about this season. MVC teams are 2-9 against top 50 RPI teams (UNI owns wins over Siena and Old Dominion). That’s bad two ways – the MVC needs to win more and play more. Some of that is luck of the draw – take WSU’s win over Iowa and Bradley’s win over Illinois. Some of that is poor scheduling. Take a look at the All-MVC teams – is there anybody a neutral fan from St. Louis wants to pay to see? Maybe Illinois State’s Osiris Eldridge. He is shooting 41.5 percent from the field and has more turnovers than assists. MVC schools have produced two NBA draft picks this decade. Making NBA players is not the be-all and end-all for Valley schools. Still, it would nice to be closer to the Atlantic-10 than the Ohio Valley. Only three teams appear capable of winning it. Top seed Northern Iowa won the regular-season by three games and wrapped it up by mid-February. Second-seeded Wichita State can win it if the Shockers play like they did in January or on the final day of the February schedule. Third-seeded Illinois State won six in a row in late February and has two of the top three vote-getters in Player of the Year voting. That’s it. I guess, in honor of its history in St. Louis, I should point out Creighton has won three straight. With SIU in the tank, Creighton and Bradley average, I expect crowds to be down.