January 02, 2012
Whether it was Indiana State toppling Vanderbilt, Wichita State shellacking UNLV or Creighton winning at San Diego State, the Missouri Valley Conference posted enough quality non-league wins to generate talk it could earn up to four NCAA bids.
It's certainly possible that could happen if everything breaks in the Valley's favor, but an upset-filled opening week of conference play reinforced why it's highly unlikely.
The Valley lived up to its reputation for beating the heck out of itself in an opening week in which all four conference favorites dropped at least one game. Creighton fell at home to Missouri State, Wichita State lost at home to Creighton, Indiana State was upset by 15 at Drake and Northern Iowa dropped a pair to Illinois State and Evansville.
Each of those four favorites can certainly absorb a few league losses and still make a case for an at-large bid, but the problem for the Valley may be that the middle of the league is too strong to allow that quartet to gain much separation. Teams like Missouri State, Drake, Illinois State and Evansville did not accomplish enough in non-league play to realistically contend for an at-large bid, yet they're each plenty formidable enough to hand the league's top teams a damaging loss or two.
Such losses almost certainly won't prevent the Valley from at least earning two bids for the first time since the league's memorable 2006 season. And heck, three is very possible if two out of the group of Creighton, Wichita State, Indiana State and Northern Iowa can get to 13 or 14 league wins and another team wins Arch Madness to secure an automatic bid.
But none of the Valley's top teams have built unassailable enough non-conference resumes to remain in at-large contention with six or seven league losses. And with the middle of the league already stealing wins from the established powers, that's going to make matching the four NCAA bids the league received in 2006 a nearly impossible task.