With longtime flagship basketball programs Creighton and Wichita State now both gone, the Missouri Valley Conference is in jeopardy of no longer producing multiple NCAA tournament teams each year anymore.
The league can only hope its newest addition eventually helps address that problem.
The Valley announced Tuesday morning that its presidents council has voted unanimously to invite Valparaiso to replace Wichita State as the league’s 10th member beginning with the 2017-18 school year. Conference officials had also visited Murray State, Nebraska-Omaha and Milwaukee in recent weeks.
Valparaiso doesn’t come close to matching Wichita State’s recent history of 10 NCAA tournament wins in the past five seasons, but the Crusaders have the most basketball pedigree of the four universities under consideration. They reached the NCAA tournament seven times from 1996-2004 under former coach Homer Drew and they’ve won 20 or more games in six of the past seven seasons.
Adding Valparaiso suggests the league valued finding a competitive basketball program more than it did during its search to replace Creighton in 2013. The Valley chose Loyola (Chicago) four years ago largely because the school provided a foothold in Chicago, a valuable TV market and a city where much of the league recruits.
The damage Creighton’s departure caused was masked to an extent by Wichita State’s emergence as a perennial national power. The Valley could count on the Shockers to win 30 games, contend for an at-large NCAA tournament bid and finish the season in the AP Top 25.
With Wichita State now headed for the stronger, more visible American Athletic Conference, the Valley desperately needs one of its remaining programs to fill the void.
Maybe it will be Northern Iowa, which has won four NCAA tournament games since 2010. Maybe it will be Illinois State, which is on the rise under Dan Muller and won 28 games last season. Someday, it could even be Valparaiso, which has an excellent chance to be an upper-echelon team in its new league within the next few years.
But for right now, there’s no surefire candidate to soften the loss of Creighton and Wichita State by making the leap to sustained national relevance.
For that reason, the gap between the Valley and college basketball’s power conferences appears larger than it has in awhile.
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