Resume building for teams in the Missouri Valley Conference starts with the very first game of the season. To get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament come March, they must schedule every nonconference game with the intention of building a respectable RPI.
It is not only necessary to schedule top 100 opponents, but also win some of these games. This has become especially important over the last two season as the league has seen Creighton move on, Bracket Busters get canceled, and the Missouri Valley - Mountain West Challenge get thrown to the dust bin.
Increasingly, Arch Madness has become the only chance teams not named Wichita State have to dance in the big one come March.
Missouri Valley athletic directors and coaches have made a point to schedule better opponents with the intention of improving Valley team RPIs as a whole, and hopefully, giving a second, third, or possibly even a fourth team enough of an boost to also claim a spot come March.
With that said, here is a quick recap of which Valley teams helped the cause or started the year off in a hole:
- Wichita State, in its effort to improve nonconference strength of schedule, has not disappointed. Although the Shockers haven't knocked off a powerhouse to this point (come on Big 12, just make a trip to Koch Arena) they have two wins that will raise some eyebrows: an impressive dismantling of Memphis after the opening game thrashing of New Mexico State. The Shockers appear ready to not skip a beat this year.
- Northern Iowa has been trying to live up to the predictions that it would be a possible second entrant to the dance. Ending the Stephen F. Austin home-court win streak was a definite step in the right direction. Add in the Virginia Tech win and they have the momentum they need to get a statement win against the beef of their schedule when they hit the road against VCU and in-state rival Iowa. If they somehow get through Richmond, George Mason, and the two big ones unscathed, their ticket is punched with a second place (or higher) Valley finish.
- Evansville had a respectable win against Miami (OH), but must go undefeated outside the conferenceto make any kind of statement. Matchups against Belmont, Murray State, Ohio, and Fresno State could all prove a small shot in the arm to their RPI, but with no marquee matchup, they haven't left much room for error either before or during conference play. With the talent they seem to have on a somewhat experienced squad, it would have been nice to see them challenge themselves a little more. This schedule should get them ready for MVC play, and if they do keep winning, a win or two against the Shockers or Northern Iowa come conference time will open a few eyes. But a stumble against a mid-level nonconference team could end their hopes before the calendar even changes over to 2015.
- Missouri State may be another school in a position with their scheduling to make an at-large case. The next two weeks will be telling as it is full of lower-middle of the pack teams from power conferences. Although the Bears lost against Texas Tech, they still have a great nonconference opportunity in the Great Alaska Shootout against Colorado State and potentially Washington State, and they could earn some major RPI payback once these teams get to conference play, if they exceed expectations.
Three other teams in the Valley are just talented enough to get a nice win to help the conference profile over the next couple of games: Indiana State (a team hard to figure out right now), Illinois State (next couple of weeks), and Southern Illinois.
The whole MVC is hoping the Salukis can start winning in November this year instead of waiting until the last ten games of conference play like last season. The late run decimated any slim hopes the Valley teams hanging around 100 in the RPI had of making a end of year run.
Although Bradley and Drake have already shown that they may be a major drag on Valley RPIs during conference play -- there are always a couple -- the league can survive if they can head into conference play around .500. And if Loyola can somehow keep winning despite not much love from any writers that will only help
I will check back in a few weeks to see if anyone has surprised or limited their hopes of post-season magic to the CBI, before the first week of December is over.