Some national analysts might not agree, but Bradley men's basketball coach Jim Les feels an 18-game ride through the Missouri Valley Conference schedule did plenty to prepare them for the NCAA Tournament.
The Braves (20-10) will play Kansas University at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Auburn Hills, Mich., with what some perceive as a bad word attached: mid-major.
Les, though, thinks the MVC reputation is a bit skewed.
"I've got a lot of respect for the level of basketball in this league," Les said. "We're continuing to make this upward climb to get national respect."
Four Missouri Valley teams are dancing this week - Bradley, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. The first three are at-large bids, while the Salukis won the MVC tournament by beating Bradley in the title game.
CBS analysts Jim Nantz and Billy Packer spent part of the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday grumbling about the high number of bids the Missouri Valley received. The Big 12 Conference and the ACC had the same number of invites.
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MVC supporters will point to the rating percentage index, which had the top tier of Valley teams in good position all year long. According to collegerpi.com, Bradley is ranked 33rd in the RPI, and four other conference teams are ranked in the 20s. That includes 21st-ranked Missouri State, which didn't get invited.
Critics, meanwhile, point to soft nonconference schedules that don't prove a whole lot. Bradley's biggest nonconference victory was at DePaul, while the rest of the Braves' nonconference schedule featured Bowling Green, Western Kentucky, Butler and Southern Mississippi.
"All we can do is play the games allotted on our schedule," Les said. "Scheduling is the toughest thing we do. Those (big-conference) schools will not play us, so we're trying to do the best we can to move up the ladder with the resources we have."
Bradley did enough this year. Along with Air Force, the Braves slipped in and grabbed one of the last two at-large berths.
Now, the MVC has to prove its worth - something Les said would be easier given the strength of the league.
"Our league was awfully strong," Les said. "But, again, it's just breaking down perception, and we've just got to stay on the course."
¢ Pundits: Bradley and the MVC have one big fan in Woody Paige of ESPN's "Cold Pizza," who has picked Bradley to defeat Kansas. Les was asked Monday at a news conference if he was ready to join the Paige fan club:
"Where do I sign up?" Les quipped. "Not only me, but all the coaches in this league take it personal when people take shots at our teams or our league. The only thing I ask of people is do your homework if you're going to give an opinion. To not have watched any games and spout off, I think is a little bit irresponsible."
Les wasn't as happy with ESPN's Digger Phelps, who during a commercial break of a radio show Sunday, "made a comment about score of our championship game (BU lost to Southern Illinois, 59-46). I quickly referenced why Florida beat South Carolina in the SEC championship game, 49-47. He had no comments. I asked him if he forgot as a coach when you're playing a team in your conference for a third time and you're both defensive-oriented, there won't be a lot of points scored. And then they quickly came out of commercial so I didn't get a response."
¢ Former Pratt player: Bradley's Tony Bennett attended Pratt Community College. "When I was there, they were crazy about the Jayhawks," he said. "At the time, I was a huge Syracuse fan. That was when Carmelo (Anthony) was there."