If either Creighton or Wichita State were feeling generous on Wednesday night, they might have tanked their games at Missouri State and Northern Iowa to strengthen the Missouri Valley Conference's chances of landing three or more NCAA tournament bids.
Instead the Bluejays and Shockers gutted out narrow yet noteworthy road wins, further establishing themselves as the class of the Valley and solidifying the league's two-bid status barring a third team winning Arch Madness this year.
Eight games into the Valley schedule, both Creighton (17-2) and Wichita State (16-3) are tied atop the league with matching 7-1 records. The only team within two games of them is surprising Drake (12-7, 5-3), which boasts a non-league win over Iowa State but probably didn't accomplish enough outside league play to merit serious at-large consideration at this point.
The programs that were supposed to challenge Creighton and Wichita State and give the Valley a shot at three or even four bids are further back in the pack.
Missouri State boasts reigning Valley player of the year Kyle Weems and a revamped supporting cast, but it's just 4-4. Northern Iowa has a gaudy No. 30 RPI and non-league wins over Iowa State, Iowa and Colorado State, but it's just 3-5. And Indiana State upset highly ranked Vanderbilt last month, yet it's just 2-6.
It's possible one of those teams has a torrid second half and reenters the at-large picture, but the far more likely scenario is they'll have to win Arch Madness to have any realistic NCAA tournament hopes. Still, all is not lost for a league that appears certain to produce multiple bids for the first time since the memorable 2006 season.
Bracket predictions had Creighton as high as a No. 4 seed and Wichita State in the 8-9 game entering this week. So the Valley probably won't be a three- or four-bid league this season, but it still has a good chance of doing some damage in March.
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- Wichita State
- Missouri Valley Conference
- Northern Iowa