By Jeff Goodman
The Missouri Valley has been a one-bid league for the past four years.
That'll change this season.
League commissioner Doug Elgin isn't quite ready to put his league on par with 2005 and 2006, but he's also not afraid to admit that this year the conference should be in position to receive multiple bids come March.
The top four teams -- Creighton, Wichita State, Indiana State and Northern Iowa -- are 36-7 overall. All rank in the Top 50 of the RPI and the league certainly has the look and feel of a multiple-bid conference this season.
Back in mid-December of 2005-06, when the Valley wound up with three teams in the NCAA tournament, there were six teams in the RPI's Top 75 and the non-conference mark for the league was 57-20. The next season, when a record four schools got into the Big Dance, there were four teams in the Top 75 and the non-conference record was 66-22.
This season there are four teams in the Top 50 and the non-conference record is 70-33.
"We're decidedly stronger and deeper than we've been in the last three or four years," Elgin said. "Juniors and seniors are leading the way, and we have some really good point guards on the contending programs."
There are some marquee wins for the league as well. Indiana State took care of Vanderbilt with its star big man, Festus Ezeli; Wichita State defeated UNLV; and Creighton knocked off San Diego State on the road. The league isn't ranked second or third in the RPI - as it was back in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons - but it's eighth overall.
Creighton is considered the premiere team in the league and also boasts the frontrunner for conference Player of the Year honors -- Doug McDermott. But Greg Lansing's Indiana State team proved it may be improved from a year ago -- when it went to the NCAA tournament -- with the win in Nashville against Vandy. Gregg Marshall has his best overall team since arriving at Wichita State, with five guys in double-figures, and Ben Jacobsen has made certain Northern Iowa hasn't fallen off the map since the huge upset over Kansas in the NCAA tournament a couple years ago.
Elgin said that there has clearly been an increased commitment by the league as a whole to boost their non-conference schedules.
"Part of the problem the last few years was that the teams that ended up being our strongest didn't have the non-conference schedules," Elgin admitted.
Elgin also said coaching stability has something to do with the success this season. Missouri State's Paul Lusk is the only rookie coach. New Bradley coach Geno Ford has experience coming from Kent State and every other coach has at least three years of head coaching experience in the league except for Lansing - who was an assistant coach for the Sycamores before getting the head gig.
"It's too early to start counting our chickens," Elgin said. "But I think we're certainly getting close to where we were."
Photo: US PRESSWIRE