Kansas City, Mo. The Missouri Valley Conference might be too good for its own good.
After beating up on outsiders in November and December, Valley teams have been just as tough on each other in league play, raising the prospect that the conference could finish the regular season with a monster RPI but without any highly ranked teams.
The Valley's coaches just hope they don't get punished for the conference's balance when NCAA Tournament bids come out in March.
"I hope I'm not a harbinger of doom," Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said. "But as good as the conference was last year, it's better this year. As much as we beat each other up, we might have a hard time putting together resumes to get into the tournament."
The Valley landed a record four teams in last year's NCAA field, with Bradley and Wichita State reaching the regional semifinals. Wichita State raced to a 9-0 start and a No. 8 ranking early this season, but is 3-9 since and tied for eighth in the 10-team conference.
"We're eighth in the league right now, and we're a pretty good team," said coach Mark Turgeon, whose Shockers won nonconference games at then-No. 6 LSU and then-No. 15 Syracuse. "That shows you the bottom of the conference is so much better this year."
Creighton's Dana Altman, the dean of Valley coaches, agreed.
"I've been in the league 12 to 13 years, and this is our best year for balance," Altman said. "Whenever you're on the road, it's dangerous. And a lot of times, when you're at home it's dangerous."
The Valley ranks fifth in RPI, with five teams in the top 41. Southern Illinois is eighth, Missouri State 27th, Bradley 32nd, Creighton 38th and Northern Iowa 41st.
But only Northern Iowa, fourth in the "others receiving votes" category in this week's rankings by The Associated Press, is close to a Top 25 spot.
The Valley and the Southeastern Conference are the only leagues whose members were all still over .500 going into the week, though. That gives credence, the coaches said, to their contention that the Valley is among the nation's best, toughest conferences and should be treated as such by tournament selectors.
"There isn't a dominant team, and it's difficult to get somebody ranked when you've got a lot of solid teams," Altman said. "I hope that's taken into consideration. I think we've got six or seven teams in the ballpark."
How many of them get into the NCAA field, if the trend of parity continues, will depend in large part on whether the Valley can get selectors to think of it as a high-major conference on a par with, say, the Big 12 or Pac-10.
"Those leagues have averaged four teams getting into the tournament," Bradley coach Jim Les said. "I don't think it should change because we might not have the reputation of other leagues."
It should have that reputation already, Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson said.
"Last year, we proved it through our play with Bradley and WSU getting through to the Sweet 16," Jacobson said. "We haven't had to sit and lobby to get people to see that we've got good basketball in our league.
"I think it will hold true, or at least I hope it does, that people recognize that because we beat each other up it's because we've got 10 good teams," he added. "It's not because the top four or five teams aren't good enough."