Earlier this month, the Missouri Valley Conference lost Wichita State – its most valuable athletic program. After being severely under-seeded in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this year, the Valley’s most heralded basketball powerhouse fled to the American Athletic Conference where they could play tougher teams.
The move threw the conference into a whirlwind as Wichita State had been a member of the MVC since 1945, and the conference executives thought tradition would influence the Shockers to stay. Instead, they’ve been forced into a mad dash to replace them.
How does a mid-major replace a team that, under head coach Gregg Marshall, had won 30 games in four of the last five years? How do you replace a team that averaged 10,800 at each home game and “Shocked the Nation” by reaching the Final Four in 2013, becoming the first MVC team since Larry Bird’s Sycamores.
The answer isn’t simple.
A similar scenario happened in 2013 when Creighton left the Valley for the Big East and their basketball prowess. This prompted the Valley to add Loyola Chicago. It has been reported that the Valley officials have been visiting a few potential universities this week including Murray State, Valparaiso, Milwaukee and Omaha.
So who is the best fit?
Murray State currently competes in the Ohio Valley Conference. Their arena seats 8,600 and the basketball team has had success in the past. In 2011-2012, the Racers made some noise across the country when they started 23-0. This past season was their first sub .500 season in 29 years as they finished 16-17.
Valpo currently plays in the Horizon League and is another team with a strong basketball history. Everyone remembers Bryce Drew’s famous shot in 1998 to upset Ole Miss in the NCAA’s. They’ve also gone to the NCAA tournament nine times since 1996. The Crusaders lost in the championship game of the NIT in 2016. They finished 24-9 last year and lost to Illinois in the opening round of the NIT.
Milwaukee also currently resides in the Horizon League and has appeared in the NCAA tournament four times since 2003. It’s a larger state university with 27,000 students. Over the years, they’ve bounced around from Division III to Division I. Although their colors are black and gold, they just don’t place enough value on athletics to become a meaningful member of the MVC.
University of Nebraska – Omaha
The Mavericks currently compete in the Summit League and just now finished their transition from Division II to Division I. They finished 18-14 last year, and the athletic program is up and coming. This addition would allow the Valley to re-enter the Omaha market vacated by Creighton, but the Mavs have only had NCAA tournament eligibility for two years. They would have a rough time winning in the MVC and really have nothing to give the conference in return.
Winner – Valparaiso
Valparaiso’s winning history and past tournament success makes them the best fit for the MVC. Their geographical location is optimal, and they could renew in state rivalries against Evansville and Indiana State. They’ve shown the ability to recruit high caliber players, and would bring valuable revenue and another solid fan base to the MVC.