Wichita State Shockers

Numbers game not adding up for Missouri Valley

Wichita State's Tekele Cotton scores against DePaul's Charles McKinney in November.
Wichita State's Tekele Cotton scores against DePaul's Charles McKinney in November. The Wichita Eagle

The numbers on Wichita State stack up, bit by bit, and begin to tell their own story.

They show a team, on paper, as good as anyone in the country. Numbers that befit a 22-0 start and a No. 4 national ranking.

The numbers on the Missouri Valley Conference are nowhere near as kind.

A closer look at the Valley shows a conference mired in mediocrity – if not worse – and one that, statistically, doesn’t match up with leagues with similar traits of ranked teams or resumes of recent NCAA Tournament success.

Side by side with the American Athletic Conference, Atlantic 10, Big East, Mountain West and West Coast Conference and considering three widely-used ratings systems – RPI, Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings and Jeff Sagarin’s ratings – the Valley struggles to keep its head above water.

“I don’t think (the Valley) is terrible, it’s just not as good as we’re used to,” said Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com’s bracketology expert. “We’ve seen it better at the top, meaning the difference between the best team and the second-best team hasn’t been as great in years past as it has this year.

“The Valley still has three teams in the top 100 of the RPI, with Indiana State and Missouri State, and that’s not bad.”

The American, Big East and West Coast all have 10 teams, like the Valley. The Atlantic 10 has 13 teams and the Mountain West 11.

Wichita State’s RPI (9), Pomeroy (10) and Sagarin (15) ratings are all in line with the best teams from the other leagues.

The Big East is home to two teams that have higher ratings than WSU in two of three ratings systems. Former Valley foe, No. 20 Creighton, is fourth in Pomeroy and fifth in Sagarin, but trailing the Shockers at 10th in RPI. No. 9 Villanova is ahead of WSU in RPI (4) and Sagarin (6).

The only other team from the other conferences rated ahead of WSU in any of the three is No. 12 Louisville, the defending national champion, at fifth in Pomeroy and 12th in Sagarin. The Cardinals are 29th in the RPI.

The Mountain West’s best team, No. 5 San Diego State, is behind the Shockers in all three ratings — 16th in RPI and Sagarin, 17th in Pomeroy.

The Valley’s real problems occur after getting past the top five teams. Bradley, Evansville, Loyola and Southern Illinois all were over 200 in RPI – the same number as the other five conferences combined.

A more basic statistic, winning percentage, tells almost the same story. The Atlantic 10 (65.8 percent) edges the Big East at 65.5. The American isn’t far behind at 64.4, while the Mountain West (60.6) and West Coast (60.0) are also neck-and-neck.

The Valley checks in at 56.6.

Part of the struggle comes from inexperience. Evansville is Division I’s third-youngest team, according to Pomeroy, while Illinois State is seventh. Loyola is 35th. Of the five other conferences, only one conference has a team in the top 60 of inexperience (Mountain West, San Jose State, 30th).

“The struggles of the rest of the league has been the knock on Wichita State’s undefeated season, and I don’t think that’s where the league wants to be,” Pomeroy said. “And youth is definitely a factor in that. If the transfer bug doesn’t bite some of these teams I think the Valley can be, in a few years, back as one of the nine-best conferences in the nation.”

Cold comfort for Shocker fans, but not the rest of the Valley, would be that the only hope of the conference making any headway on the others this season would be an upset of WSU by one of its league foes.

“I still have the Valley as the 11th-rated conference, and I don’t know if it’s fair to consider the American or Atlantic 10 their peers,” Palm said. “Or even the Mountain West, because the only time the Valley ever gets more than one team in the NCAA Tournament is when their regular-season conference champion loses in the Valley tournament.”

In head-to-head play with teams from the other five conferences, the Shockers have been dominant. WSU won games against DePaul, BYU and No. 19 Saint Louis over a one week stretch from Nov. 25-Dec. 1. Only DePaul is outside the top 100 RPI, at 101st.