Down Year for MVC
by Max Powers - 02/19/2008
For the past couple of seasons the Missouri Valley Conference has been the media darling of the NCAA Tournament. They have become a major player in the college basketball landscape despite being a basketball only mid-major conference. Through creative scheduling MVC teams amass high RPI numbers that the selection committee can't help but notice and therefore they have received multiple at-large bids similar to those of major conferences. With their recent success it appeared that they would be in for another strong conference this year, but things have blown up and traditional powers have fallen flat on their face. The following will examine the conference as it relates to the upcoming March Madness tournament.
In recent years the conference has done a great job in improving their RPI by having a great strategy in their non-conference scheduling. The RPI stand for ratings percentage index and is one of the major statistics the Tournament Selection Committee looks at when determining the best 32 at-large teams. It factors in the teams you have played, the teams you have beaten, and the location at which you beat or lost to them. As of this writing the No. 1 team in regards to RPI rankings is Tennessee, followed by Memphis, Duke, and North Carolina.
The Missouri Valley has studied these numbers and found a loophole -- you can improve your numbers by scheduling bad teams from major conferences. In recent years, Minnesota and Iowa State have shown up on numerous Missouri Valley schedules and neither of those two programs have had much success in recent years. Most likely the MVC team would pound them. You would assume such a non-quality win would not help their RPI. But that is not the case, since both Minnesota and Iowa play in major conference, their strength of schedule numbers (a key component in RPI) would go through the roof and thus have a carryover effect to the Missouri Valley team that beat them.
The conference also would never schedule any teams that would likely be below the top 200 within the RPI rankings. Teams like Furman, Alcorn State and Jacksonville State often are easy victories but they do more damage then good because margin of victory is not considered in the equation for the RPI. So, despite the 40-point victory teams would fall in the standings and the Valley realized this and scheduled accordingly.
Because of this intelligent planning the conference was rewarded with multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament the last couple of seasons. This is a major boost the economy for the schools and the strategy appeared to be doing well when the 2007-2008 season began. Southern Illinois was coming off a Sweet 16 performance and returned three starters from that squad. Bradley, Northern Iowa, and Creighton are all traditional powers and many assumed they would also be competing for tournament bids come March.
But the conference has been anything but stable this year, starting with the preseason favorite, Southern Illinois blowing up and losing their offensive punch. After a 3-0 start the Salukis fell apart, losing five out of their next six games to some bad teams like Saint Louis, Western Michigan and Charlotte. Those losses were before conference play started and this gave Drake the opening to the top spot and they have never looked back since. With the exception of Drake, the conference has looked lackluster, with nobody else rising to the top and the middle-rung teams have just been beating up on one another. Illinois State currently sits in second place and has five losses in conference. In fact, four games is all that separates seven teams and a couple of MVC teams have just one road victory on the season. Because of this great balance the conference will likely only have one representative in the tournament unless someone would happen to upset Drake and receive the automatic bid. Drake is the only team that stands a chance for an at-large selection and that is a given assuming that they do not implode with just four regular season games remaining. They have already locked-up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MVC Tournament in the Gateway City.
So, despite all the careful planning the MVC did in their non-conference schedule, one fact still remains, "Teams earn tournament bids, not conferences." This season the league has seen great parity and it will cost them in the rankings, as only two teams at most will receive tournament bids. Look for Doc's Sports College Basketball selections to stay hot, as we are one of the best in the nation in handicapping the collegiate hardwood. March Madness is just a week away and we want you along for the winning ride. Be sure to check out our winning packages.