Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge won’t showcase top teams

When the Missouri Valley Conference agreed to an annual league-wide challenge with the Mountain West four years ago, its hope was the event would ease some of the struggles its top teams have scheduling marquee non-conference games.

Unfortunately, this year's event does little to accomplish that goal.

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Preseason Valley favorite Creighton draws Mountain West also-ran Boise State despite returning All-American Doug McDermott and nine of its top 10 players from last year's 28-win team. Fellow Valley contenders Wichita State and Illinois State also received unappealing matchups at Air Force and home against Wyoming respectively.

Why would the Valley waste an opportunity to showcase its top teams rather than pit them against the likes of NCAA tournament contenders UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico or Colorado State? Well, it wasn't entirely by choice. Instead it's partially a result of the rigidity of the four-year agreement the league entered with the Mountain West.

Since no Valley team can play the same Mountain West opponent twice in a four-year cycle and every team needs two games at home and on the road, the options for what matchups the leagues could create this season were limited.

Creighton has previously met San Diego State and New Mexico and required a home game this year, taking UNLV and Colorado State out of the running. Wichita State already met San Diego State and UNLV and needed a road game, meaning that New Mexico wasn't an option.

Still, the current pairings do have some missteps. Why not send Wichita State to a Colorado State team that brings back the core of last year's NCAA tournament team? And Illinois State may not be the draw Wichita State or Creighton is, but the Redbirds probably would have made a better opponent for New Mexico than Indiana State.

What's more, if ever there would have been a year for some flexibility and creativity from the two leagues, this might have been it.

Creighton reportedly is struggling to find quality power-conference teams willing to enter a home-and-home agreement as a result of the Bluejays' formidable roster and home court advantage. Why not send preseason top 20 San Diego State to Omaha instead of to Missouri State? Would anyone really be bothered by seeing a rematch of last year's superb back-and-forth matchup in San Diego?

Missouri Valley associate commissioner Mike Kern said the challenge with the Mountain West will not continue once the original four-year contract expires after next season. Instead the Valley is exploring other potential scheduling arrangements with other leagues or select teams in other leagues.

Whatever arrangement the Valley enters next, it would be great if it was more flexible than the current one with the Mountain West. The event only meets its potential when the leagues have the capability of creating the best matchups every year.

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