The fate of the Missouri Valley Conference on Selection Sunday could come down to a few all-important days in November and December. If Valley schools take care of business in the non-conference, the league is good enough to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament. If not, this could be a down year for the mighty mid-major.
As always, it starts with Wichita State. The heavyweights have a stellar non-conference schedule, highlighted by games against Oklahoma (7th in realtimerpi’s preseason power rankings) and Oklahoma State. In the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Shockers take on Big West Conference favorite Long Beach State and the SEC’s LSU Tigers, with a chance to play Louisville and one other highly ranked team. Back home in December, the Shockers will get a shot at Summit League champion South Dakota State.
A strong record in those games and a top two finish in the MVC race should be enough for the Shockers to dance in March. But what about the rest of league?
Northern Iowa has significant opportunities to impress. The Panthers’ involvement in the Tire Pros Invitational brings them games with Arizona State and potentially with Oklahoma. Their regular season games include challenges with Xavier (8th in realtimerpi’s power rankings), Iowa (23) and North Carolina (2). Once again, if the Ben “Jake the Giant Killer” Jacobson and his team can slay some big-named giants, the Panthers will be dancing too.
Beyond the two favorites, most Missouri Valley coaches have scheduled more responsibly than in previous seasons, with every school playing in a multi-team event (MTE).
College basketball fans know that the weaker teams in a league can pull down the RPI for everyone. So Bradley and Drake (picked near the bottom of the MVC race) need to find some success to help their MVC brothers. Bradley plays Ole Miss and TCU, so they have scheduled well. Drake is in the Great Alaska Shootout and plays Iowa State, so those two, even with losses in those games will garner some important points in the RPI.
The Missouri Valley earned last year’s 12th best conference RPI (KenPom.com) and realtimerpi.com ranks the league’s 2016-17 strength of schedule as 12th.
Here are three key dates to circle on your calendar. If Valley teams perform well on these three dates, the MVC will make a strong case for placing multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Four Valley teams are playing in MTEs and will need wins against mostly unnamed opponents in order to play the powers in the following rounds. On that same night, Southern Illinois plays Minnesota.
The Mountain West/Missouri Valley Conference Challenge was the brainchild of Missouri Valley Commissioner Doug Elgin to produce some solid non-conference games for both leagues. Nine of the 10 games in the challenge are played on Dec. 3 and Illinois State’s matchup with New Mexico is particularly interesting.
This may be the most important date of the entire non-conference schedule. Northern Iowa faces Iowa and Drake takes on Iowa State in the Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic in Des Moines (Why more states don’t mandate their Division 1 schools to face each other is beyond me).
That same night, Wichita State hosts Oklahoma State, Indiana State battles Horizon League favorite Valparaiso and Evansville takes on defending OVC Tournament champion Austin Peay.