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MVC schools pick up the pace with tournament schedules

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Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball needs good news. Thursday, some good news arrived in the form of 2015 tournament announcements. It is down-the-line stuff that won’t matter much unless Valley schools stop losing at home to Texas-Arlington.

But it helps.

Wichita State fans want to know somebody else out there is trying. They are, although sometimes it’s hard to see. MVC schools poured millions into facilities to try to keep up. Schools such as Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Southern Illinois experienced success recently enough to know what it looks like and they’re trying to get back.

On Thursday, ESPN announced fields for some of its holiday tournaments in 2015.

▪  Evansville is playing in the Wooden Legacy with Arizona, Michigan State, Santa Clara, Providence and others. This season, Evansville plays in the Gulf Coast Showcase, which is a solid tournament, but with no TV. In previous seasons, Evansville hosted its own tournament or did not play in an MTE (multi-team event).

▪  Missouri State plays in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, part of a field that includes Butler, Minnesota, Temple and Utah.

▪  Bradley plays in the Charleston Classic, along with Oklahoma State, Seton Hall, Virginia, Mississippi and others.

That’s three MVC schools (at least) playing in top-quality tournaments next season. They will face good competition and the games are on one of the ESPN platforms. This season, WSU is the only MVC team with an MTE on ESPN. That’s not to say WSU is the lone Valley team in a good tournament this season — Northern Iowa is part of the Cancun Challenge and Illinois State is in the Paradise Jam. In 2013-14, WSU was again the only MVC school in an ESPN tournament.

Getting four MVC schools (WSU plays in the Orlando Classic) in the family of ESPN-run tournaments is a positive for 2015-16. The list I know of doesn’t include UNI and Illinois State, two of the more aggressive teams in the MVC with scheduling.

We are seeing several factors at work.

The MVC is mandating schools play in MTEs and now it is helping them get in good ones. The ESPN tournaments come with a travel stipend and loads of TV time. Coaches are seeing their programs mature and view an upgrade in tournament competition as an appropriate step. Evansville and Missouri State should be ready to showcase players such as D.J. Balentine and Marcus Marshall next season with strong teams and those tournaments are the right place to do it.

Last season, MVC schools played in MTEs in Peoria (Bradley), Fresno (Drake), Evansville (Evansville), San Francisco (Illinois State) and Portland (Loyola). This season, the low-profile fields include Nashville (Drake) and Kent, Ohio (Southern Illinois). Some coaches need wins. Some need to be more ambitious. Next season’s MTE schedule looks appropriately ambitious.

Good news for the MVC. Its schools are in the right tournaments. Now they need to win games.

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