Wichita State Shockers

What Wichita State will miss from the Missouri Valley Conference

University of Wichita coach Ralph Miller poses prior to the 1952-53 opener with four homegrown Shockers: From left, Gary Thompson, Cleo Littleton, Paul Scheer and Sherrill Compton. Shocker basketball began to take off in the 1950s with Miller at the helm and Littleton as the star player. WU was in its early years with the Missouri Valley Conference.
University of Wichita coach Ralph Miller poses prior to the 1952-53 opener with four homegrown Shockers: From left, Gary Thompson, Cleo Littleton, Paul Scheer and Sherrill Compton. Shocker basketball began to take off in the 1950s with Miller at the helm and Littleton as the star player. WU was in its early years with the Missouri Valley Conference. Courtesy photo

No. 1: Roots

Wichita State joined the MVC in 1945 to make its move from the small-college ranks. Unless you remember Gene Johnson or Ross McBurney, every great Shocker moment happened as an MVC school.

Start with Ralph Miller’s hiring in 1951 and proceed directly to Paul Scheer’s shot to beat Oklahoma A&M in 1954 and the NIT berth that sprang from that moment.

Your next step is Dave Stallworth and the first MVC title and NCAA Tournament berth in 1964, followed by the 1965 Final Four. Fast-forward to MTXE, Prince McJunkins, Gene Stephenson and the 1989 NCAA baseball title.

Recover from the 1990s with Mark Turgeon and the 2006 Sweet 16. Stand up for the Gregg Marshall era and a case full of MVC All-Sports trophies.

Grier Jones, Chris Lamb, Jody Adams-Birch, Steve Rainbolt, Aliphine Tuliamuk, track and field triple crowns, Alex Harden and dominance in tennis and golf.

It’s been a great run.

No. 2: The MVC basketball legacy

Any history of college basketball must recognize the contributions of the MVC, known as the “Valley of Death” during its glory days.

Oklahoma A&M’s Henry Iba won NCAA titles in 1945 and 1946 with Bob Kurland, one of college basketball’s first prominent big men. Kansas’ Phog Allen, Drake’s Maury John and Louisville’s Denny Crum coached in the MVC.

Many MVC schools recruited black athletes when schools in the South refused, bringing in athletes such as Stallworth, Cincinnati’s Paul Hogue and Louisville’s Wes Unseld.

Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson won Player of the Year honors in 1958, 1959 and 1960. The Bearcats won NCAA titles in 1961 and 1962. Larry Bird carried Indiana State to the Final Four in 1979.

The MVC also prospered in the NIT in the days it rivaled the NCAA’s tournament. St. Louis and Ed Macauley won it in 1948. Bradley won four NIT titles – 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1982.

Tulsa and coach Nolan Richardson won the NIT in 1981 and Wichita State started its current run with the 2011 title.

The Valley slipped from the elite level. It didn’t stop trying.

Commissioner Doug Elgin pushed the conference to serve as a role model for other mid-level conferences. It moved its post-season tournament from campus gyms to St. Louis in 1991 and provided a model most others followed. It led the way with its scheduling rules, the Bracket Busters series and its success battling the high-profile conferences.

MVC schools, with smart coaching hires and a feisty attitude, joined schools such as Gonzaga, Butler, George Mason and VCU to challenge the big-money schools and conferences.

The MVC’s role in building college basketball is undisputed.

No. 3: That underdog feeling

There’s a special thrill during seasons such as 2006 when MVC fans celebrate NCAA wins over higher-profile schools.

Bradley over Kansas. Wichita State over Tennessee. Both in 2006.

Showing up the big-money schools and quieting Billy Packer is a bonding experience.

Tulsa over UCLA (1994). Indiana State over Oklahoma (2001). Southern Illinois over Georgia (2002). Northern Iowa over Kansas (2010).


It will be a few years before a victory by Central Florida generates the same feeling.

No. 4: Arch Madness

Sure, the Shockers didn’t win often in St. Louis.

But the MVC Tournament thrived in St. Louis and it turned into a must-see event when Shocker fans began making six-hour drive in large numbers. They mixed with Creighton, Southern Illinois, Bradley and Illinois State fans to create a strong atmosphere in the best years.

The Arch. Dinner on The Hill. A brewery tour. Plenty of tickets available at Scottrade Center.

St. Louis became a second home for Shockers fans in March.

No. 5: MVC refs

Well, you’ll see some of the same faces in the American.

No. 6: Rivalries that won’t be renewed

The Shockers miss Creighton and a red-hot basketball rivalry. The baseball teams played monumental games — starting with the epic 1991 College World Series — and the volleyball rivalry is strong.

That’s not coming back as a conference rivalry.

WSU played Drake (151 games) and Bradley (140) more than any other opponent. Miller went 0-13 at Bradley’s Robertson Field House during his tenure, proof of the competition in the MVC in the 1950s and 1960s.

Missouri State joined the MVC in 1990. The Bears tormented the Shockers in men’s basketball in those early days. Its women’s basketball team went to the Final Four in 1992 and 2001 with Jackie Stiles.

Baseball coach Keith Guttin produced consistent challengers to Wichita State’s MVC dominance from tiny Meador Park to gorgeous Hammons Field.

In volleyball, WSU, Missouri State and Northern Iowa combined to win 15 of the past 17 titles. Expect those series to continue in non-conference tournaments.

No. 7: All-Sports trophies

The Shockers won 22 MVC All-Sports titles, most of any school, and may grab another on its way out.

Winning is good.

Things will be different in the American, where the Shockers won’t enjoy advantages in facilities, budget, population and weather over most schools.

No. 8: Conference tournaments within driving distance

Wichita State certainly won’t enjoy ownership of the American baseball tournament like it did almost every season from 1987-2010 in the MVC.

Trips to Florida for many sports appear custom in the American.

Men’s basketball is in Orlando next season. Tulsa, according to ESPN, is in the discussion for a future tournaments.

American volleyball doesn’t hold a tournament.

Travel in the new conference is a mixed bag for fans.

Tulsa is closer than any MVC venue. SMU (Dallas) is closer than most MVC schools. After those two, however, the trips grow more imposing. And neither of those schools play baseball.

WSU’s closest baseball trip becomes Memphis (587 miles) with Houston about 40 miles farther. The closest American trips are roughly equal to the longest in the MVC. Softball is in a similar situation, although it will play Tulsa. SMU does not sponsor softball.

The locales, however, are undeniably attractive and you can bet Shocker coaches will use trips to Florida, Texas and New Orleans when they talk to recruits. When university fund-raisers want to schmooze a big checkbook, those destinations are attractive lures.

No. 9: Bragging about old glories

Nobody in your new conference cares about the 2013 Final Four, seven trips to the College World Series or All-Sports Trophies.

It’s all about NCAA Tournament money, RPI and earning your keep as a men’s basketball rain-maker.

If Wichita State fails to deliver, shut off your social media.

No. 10: The basketball round robin

A 10-team conference produces a pure title race. Each team plays the other twice and the championship is meaningful.

A 12-team American will use some sort of unbalanced schedule. It’s necessary, but unsatisfying in many ways.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop