Archive for Tuesday, March 7, 2006

MVC boss thinking five

March 7, 2006

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The way the Missouri Valley tournament unfolded was a dream scenario for the conference.

Two teams needing to pile up wins made it to the finals, perhaps strengthening the conference's claim for as many as five NCAA Tournament bids.

"The outcome of the championship game puts us in a position where I believe in my heart that we deserve and will get five," MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin said. "If there are a lot of at-large bids gobbled up by upsets, potentially we could get fewer, but I don't think there's any question that we have six teams right now that I think are NCAA Tournament-caliber."

That talk may sound a tad optimistic considering the conference never has received more than three bids, but Elgin should know. He was a member of the selection committee from 1999 to 2002.

"It gives me perspective," he said. "I'm not as educated as I was when I was on the committee, by far, but I do know our teams are worthy."

The RPI rankings display the Valley's unprecedented power, with six teams in the top 42 and an overall sixth-place conference ranking. Missouri State leads the way at 21st, and the Bears finished third in the conference. Northern Iowa is 26th, regular-season champion Wichita State is 28th, Southern Illinois 30th, Bradley 34th and Creighton 42nd.

The first three likely were locks for bids on selection Sunday entering the tournament. Northern Iowa had the strongest nonconference showing in the league, beating Iowa at home and winning at LSU.

Losing in the semifinals should not hurt Wichita State, given that the Shockers have won 13 of 17 and given the respect the conference has earned over the years. The regular-season champion has received an NCAA bid every year since 1994, even though only two top seeds won the tournament during that period.

Southern Illinois was the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but the Salukis were a bubble team before beating Northern Iowa in overtime in the semifinals, and then pulling away in the second half of a 59-46 victory over Bradley in the championship game. They had dropped three of four before the tournament.

Bradley, the fifth seed, built its case with a seven-game winning streak before fizzling in the second half of the title game. That includes a victory over Wichita State in the semifinals.

The Valley could make a case for a sixth team, Creighton, although it's shakier. The Bluejays finished fourth in the regular season and lost in the opening round of the tournament.

"So the dilemma the basketball committee has is this: If you don't take five, who do you leave out?" Elgin said.

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