Archive for Monday, March 13, 2006

Missouri Valley lands four in NCAAs

March 13, 2006

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— Even with a conference record-breaking number of NCAA Tournament bids, Sunday still was bittersweet for the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Valley landed four teams in the tournament, one more than the previous record and equal to the Big 12 Conference's number of bids this year. Southern Illinois qualified automatically as the conference tournament champion, while regular-season champion Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Bradley got at-large bids.

But the team with the conference's highest RPI didn't get an invitation, and CBS analyst Billy Packer said the bracket builders had been too generous to the Valley.

That opinion, more than the omission of Missouri State from the field, grated on commissioner Doug Elgin, who noted that Valley teams had reached the round of 16 twice since 1999 and had upset a number of teams from power conferences in the tournament.

"I thought that was inappropriate and wrong," Elgin said Sunday night. "I'm proud of this league."

But even the criticism indicates that the Valley is getting noticed. So do the questions about how Missouri State, despite an RPI that rose to No. 20 in the week before Selection Sunday, could be left out.

While stopping short of criticizing the Basketball Committee, Elgin said he was "extremely disappointed, I have to say, that Missouri State came in with a 20 RPI and didn't get anything."

Wichita State, making its first appearance in the tournament since 1988, is seeded seventh in the Washington Regional.

Northern Iowa is seeded 10th in the Minneapolis regional, taking on seventh-seeded Georgetown on Friday in Dayton, Ohio. The Panthers helped their case with quality nonconference wins over Iowa and Louisiana State.

Southern Illinois, meanwhile, went from a bubble team to an automatic qualifier with its tournament-winning run. The Salukis are seeded 11th in the Atlanta Regional and play sixth-seeded West Virginia on Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich.

"I like where we're at," Saluki forward Matt Shaw said.

Bradley also will play Friday at Auburn Hills, in the Oakland Regional. The Braves are seeded 13th and will face fourth-seeded Kansas University.

Creighton, meanwhile, saw its NCAA hopes fade down the stretch.

"You're always disappointed but I wasn't shocked," coach Dana Altman said. "I felt we were probably a win or two short. That's the way it ended up."

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