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One-on-One: Will the MVC be a multi-bid league this season?

Bradley men’s basketball celebrates following their victory over Valparaiso in the MVC Championship game on March 8, 2020. Photo via Scout Archive.

Men’s basketball season is fully underway in the Missouri Valley Conference, and the league’s 12 teams are off to a hot start. In non-conference play, the Valley has gone 51-21 for a staggering .708 winning percentage, one of the best marks in league history. Teams that were expected to finish last have some of the best records and powerhouses beat some tough teams, shocking Valley fans and college basketball fans across the country.

This early-season success has many people wondering if the Valley can attain multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament this season, something it hasn’t done since 2021. Sports contributors Gabriel Holowka and Michael Savoie discuss below.

It’s a one-bid league

By Gabriel Holowka

Despite the high stakes and intense competitiveness, multiple indicators point to the MVC not being a multi-bid conference in 2023.

A crucial element in the NCAA tournament selection process that is currently missing for the Valley is big victories against highly-regarded teams. As of yet, the members of the MVC haven’t achieved major victories over some of the best teams in the nation. Without these strong wins, the league may struggle to persuade the selection committee that it merits more than one berth in the elite event.

Competitive balance can be harmful to a conference’s chances of earning multiple tourney invitations, even though it is generally viewed as a favorable quality. So far in 2023, the MVC has seen a high level of competition among its schools, with no single team emerging as a clear front-runner. While this allows for entertaining conference competition, it also increases the likelihood of teams harming each other’s credentials, making it tough for several teams to stand out.

When choosing tournament bids, the selection committee strongly assesses a team’s exposure to the national scene. Regretfully, in 2023, the MVC has had difficulty maintaining an ongoing supply of national attention. In the absence of an impressive team or intriguing narratives that captivate the interest of the wider basketball world, the league could not gain the prominence required to earn several invitations.

Looking at historical data, the MVC has typically been a one-bid league when it comes to the NCAA tournament. While there have been exceptions, the conference’s track record suggests that earning multiple bids is going to be an uphill battle. The selection committee tends to rely on historical performance as a guide, and unless there’s a significant deviation from the norm, the MVC may find itself with only one representative in the tournament.

The Valley runs deep

By Michael Savoie

The Missouri Valley Conference has become wildly successful in the NCAA tournament compared to other mid-major conferences and should have multiple bids for March Madness.

Over the past 20 years, the MVC has compiled a record of 33-34 (.4925) in the 64-team tournament. On the surface, this may not seem compelling, but compared to other mid-major conferences the Valley is at the top in regards to their tournament performance.

This overall record doesn’t come without its fair share of big upsets. Examples of this would be the 2006 Braves knocking out the Bill Self-led Kansas Jayhawks, or the 2016 Northern Iowa Panthers beating Texas on a half-court heave.

Overall, the Valley has a total of 18 underdog wins from 2002 to 2022, placing them fifth overall and ahead of power conferences like the Big 12 and the Big East.

The Valley has also had their fair share of Cinderella stories. The most memorable case from the MVC is the 2018 Loyola Ramblers team, and rightfully so. As well, the Valley has sent 18 teams to the Final Four. For a mid-major conference, that is not bad at all.

The MVC has shown year in and year out that it can compete against the big boys in March Madness. While the Valley is a mid-major conference, the amount of underdog wins and teams sent to the Final Four can’t be understated. The Valley runs deep and it’s about time they get their respect come tournament time.

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