Increased competition in the American will bolster Wichita State basketball

Wichita State won the Valley tournament in its final year in the league. (AP)
Wichita State won the Valley tournament in its final year in the league. (AP)

Having piled up a sparkling 68-4 record in the Missouri Valley Conference the past four years, Wichita State basketball is ready for a new challenge.

The Shockers will get one next season when they join the American Athletic Conference.

Wichita State accepted an invitation Friday to join the American in all sports beginning with the 2017-18 school year. The league voted unanimously to add the Shockers earlier Friday morning.

The American is a significant upgrade for Wichita State basketball despite the increased travel time and expenditures in a league with a geographic footprint that spans half the country. Insufficient competition in the Valley made it difficult for Wichita State to earn a favorable NCAA tournament seeding the past few years since the Shockers often didn’t face more than one top 100 opponent after non-league play was over.

Wichita State has won 10 NCAA tournament games the past five years and reached the 2013 Final Four despite only once receiving better than a seventh seed. This past season, the Shockers settled for a No. 10 seed despite winning 30 games and dominating league competition so thoroughly that it cracked the top 10 in the KenPom rankings and other advanced metrics.

The American has been a stronger league than the Valley since its inception thanks in large part to the consistency of SMU and Cincinnati, both of whom have finished no worse than fourth the past four seasons. If UConn, Memphis, Temple and Tulsa someday perform at the level they previously had, the American has the potential to produce an upper tier that rivals that of a power-six conference.

With every key player expected back from last season’s 31-5 team that lost to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Wichita State will likely be the American’s preseason favorite next year. Led by point guard Landry Shamet and forward Markis McDuffie, the Shockers are a fixture in the top 10 of most way-too-early top 25 polls.

If today’s news is win-win for Wichita State basketball and the American, that’s not the case for the Shockers’ non-revenue sports. They’re spending more on travel, sacrificing regional rivalries and taking more time away from class for the good of the school’s cash-cow program.

The other loser is the Valley, which says goodbye to its flagship program only four years after fellow perennial power Creighton also moved on to the Big East. The Valley could have an even tougher time regularly earning multiple NCAA tournament bids unless a Northern Iowa, Illinois State or Southern Illinois can step forward to fill the power vacuum.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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