Outside of the six power conferences that exist in college basketball, there is a traditionally strong mid-major conference filled with much smaller schools that may actually be able to compete against the big boys.
Despite the West Coast Conference producing a No. 1 seeded Gonzaga team and also sending Saint Mary’s to the NCAA tournament, both teams had rather disappointing losses early on. The Atlantic 10 generated three teams in the tourney, but the Saint Louis Bilikins lost to a 12 seeded Oregon team, and the conference hasn’t had many teams who have had success in past NCAA tournaments.
The Missouri Valley conference is by no means a household name, but it is probably the best conference that most people have never heard of.
The reigning repeat MVC champion, Creighton, beat a higher seeded Cinnicinati team (a former member of the MVC). The Jays have been one the more consistent teams in college basketball all year. CU finished first in shooting percentage in the country as they shot over 50 percent on the year. The Jays also finished fifth in total assist per game and produced an All-American in Doug McDermott. Although Creighton was defeated soundly by the Duke Blue Devils, their season as a whole was impressive. I’m sure the rest of the Valley will miss what has become a flagship program once CU leaves for the newly formed American 12 conference.
As if having a program like Creighton isn’t enough, The MVC also houses a 2013 Final Four team in the Wichita State Shockers. Statistically, the Wheat Shockers weren’t very impressive. In the team’s biggest area of strength, rebounding, WSU was only the 25th best rebounding team. In points per game and shooting percentage, the Shockers ranked 117th and 115th respectively. It wasn’t the numbers that propelled WSU to success, but their unity as a team. Everyone on the team had a role to play and every one perfomed that role effectively under head coach Gregg Marshall. The Shockers amazing tourney run was highlighted by wins over No. 1 seeded Gonzaga and highly touted Ohio State before being defeated by Louisville after the WSU had led most of the game.
Despite Creighton leaving the conference and Wichita State loosing key seniors, the MVC looks strong moving forward. It’s small programs like Evansville and Northern Iowa are grabbing higher ranked and local recruits. The competition between the conference teams is getting better and WSU’s success in the tourney will draw much more attention to the small conference. Nationally, college basketball fans are noticing not to take these mid-major programs lightly.