Joe Book: Wichita State won the NIT last season in grand fashion by routing Washington State in the semifinals and pulling away from #1 seed Alabama in the championship game. The Shockers were clearly better than their #4 seed in the NIT indicated. Does this leave you believing that the league is still quite underrated on the whole? Should Wichita State (or Missouri State, for that matter) have joined Indiana State at the NCAA Tournament?
Doug Elgin: Last season, I thought our league was much improved over the previous year, even though Northern Iowa was a top-25 RPI team and was able to beat UNLV and Kansas, the top-seeded team in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, in the first two rounds.
We had better balance at the top in 2010-11 than in the prior season, and we had a tremendous regular season race that came down to the final game, which Missouri State won at home over Wichita State.
In the case of UNI in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, and Wichita State in last year’s NIT, both were probably under-seeded – at least, I thought so. But that is easy to say after the tournament games are played, and seeding isn’t something that a conference or a team needs to complain about once you get into the tournament. As the old saying goes, ‘You can play your way out of a poor tournament seed, but you can’t play your way into a tournament.’
I thought Wichita State was our best team last year for much of the season, and they proved they were tournament-worthy with their great performance in the NIT.
When you think about it, the Missouri Valley had a great post-season, which we hope indicates that we are going to be much more competitive in the next several years.
Wichita State was sensational in the NIT, beating teams from the Big 12, ACC, Pac 12 and SEC en route to the championship. Our State Farm MVC Tournament champion – Indiana State – proved it is on the rise by upsetting WSU and Missouri State, the top two seeds, to win the title. Creighton might have staked a claim to be the pre-season favorite in 2011-12 by battling their way to the CBI championship series finale and returning a strong cast of players. And Missouri State won the regular season for the first time ever, doing it over nine tough weeks of league competition.
We are greatly encouraged heading into this season – we’re going to be much stronger.
JB: Valley teams in recent years have played relatively weak non-conference schedules. Not only does this hurt the league by potentially dragging down the conference RPI, but it fails to provide Valley teams with experience against high-quality opponents. Has there been any thought to reinstating the mandate on scheduling based on previous season RPI, or any other factor?
DE: We had significant discussion about our non-conference strength-of-schedule at our head men’s basketball coaches meeting and at our spring meetings with athletics directors and presidents, and what came out of those meetings is encouraging.
I think our people understand that they simply have to prove they are worthy of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, and they cannot accomplish that without playing strong non-conference schedules. Our teams have to be better than teams from higher-profile leagues, and the best way to make that point it is to schedule strategically. We have a commitment from our coaches and ADs that they will do everything possible to participate in high-quality multi-team events (MTEs). These early-season tournaments provide the best opportunity to play NCAA Tournament-caliber teams at neutral sites.
Our coaches also understand that playing teams with winning records and high RPIs is important, regardless of their conference affiliation. I am greatly encouraged by the commitment our teams are making to playing better schedules. We won’t see significant progress unless we play stronger schedules – and have success against those teams.
JB: The MAC recently announced that they will start paying bonuses to schools that schedule tougher opponents and win postseason games. If there isn’t going to be a scheduling mandate, is this something the Valley will ever look at? Would the Valley ever consider creating a pool of money for scheduling that individual schools could petition for to use as a supplement to their bid to “buy” games against high-ranked opponents who wouldn’t normally schedule Valley teams?
DE: In the past, the Missouri Valley did have a series of financial penalties in place that shaped the scheduling strategies of league teams. Whether those policies had much to do with the rise of the MVC in the mid-2000s is irrelevant – what mattered was that we had continuity among our head coaches and they built programs and took some risks in their non-conference scheduling. I happen to believe that the scheduling policies were important in leading our coaches and ADs to scheduling with a more discerning eye. We understood that taking risks in ‘scheduling up’ was essential to having any chance of earning at-large NCAA Tournament bids.
As we prepare to begin the 2011-12 season, we do not currently have any scheduling policies in place, but we do have a strong commitment from our membership to take the necessary steps to strengthen our non-conference schedules. We have greater continuity among our coaching staffs than we had 3-4 years ago, and there is a realization that the climate in Division I scheduling has changed. Our teams need to play in quality early-season tournaments – we’ve proven through the years that our teams can beat just about any opponents on neutral courts. And while it has become increasingly difficult for our better teams to get regular season home-and-home series with opponents in the top six leagues, we are seeing our coaches and administrators scheduling series against strong top-75 RPI teams from peer leagues like the Atlantic 10, the Horizon, the West Coast Conference, and the CAA. Just as importantly, we have committed to playing fewer bottom-100 RPI teams. I truly believe that these scheduling strategies will put our better teams in position to command consideration for at-large NCAA Tournament berths.