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Meet the Missouri Valley, College Hoops’ Major “Mid-Major”

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The term “mid-major” was given to a conference that didn’t quite have the swagger of college basketball’s more prominent conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Big East, Pac-10, SEC. That sextet of superiority in college basketball would steal all the good seats in the NCAA Tournament, while mid-major conferences would only get their conference champ in the Big Dance.

But there’s a possibility that three of those conferences will not have more teams in the NCAA tournament.

According to ESPN.com’s “Bracketology” expert Joe Lunardi, five teams are projected to be in the field of 65 from the Missouri Valley Conference: Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Missouri State, Creighton, and Wichita State. Lurking in the shadows is a sixth team, Bradley.

The ACC — yeah, that Duke and North Carolina conference — is also currently projecting as a five-team conference. The Pac-10 is estimated to send four teams, and the Big XII with three.

How the hell did this happen? Can anyone outside of The Valley name a single player or coach on any of those teams? Can you even name a mascot? Are any of these teams even ranked?

The answer to all those questions is “probably not” and “nope, they’re all unranked.” The highest ranking is Wichita State’s No. 30 spot in the Associated Press poll, although Northern Iowa did flirt with the Top 25 earlier this year.

This means the conference is just that deep, folks. And the records show it:

  • Wichita State (24-8)
  • Missouri State (20-8)
  • Creighton (19-9)
  • Southern Illinois (21-10)
  • Northern Iowa (23-9)
  • Bradley (20-9)

The most dumbfounded of all were the high-profile sportswriters who were assigned to cover The Valley’s conference quarterfinals, including columnist Pat Forde, who was shocked to see so many NBA scouts and press credentials at a Bradley-Creighton game:

It felt like a Friday quarterfinals day in the Big Ten tournament, or the Big 12 or the SEC. Just a week early.

[…]

The basketball was correspondingly ugly for long stretches. This is not an up-and-down, fly-over-the-rim league to begin with. Factor in the consequences weighing down each possession, and it wasn’t pretty.

But it was compelling. And palpably intense.

A fan of mid-major teams such as myself (I’m a Mid-American Conference man myself) has to love the parity happening in college basketball today. Five years ago a team like Florida State would be a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament after upsetting No. 1 Duke. But now they have something to play for in their conference tournament. An early loss could quickly put the NIT on their March schedule. Sound familiar, Missouri Valley?

Another mid-major is itching for two teams in March Madness. In the Colonial Athletic Association, Joe Lunardi expects both George Mason and Bucknell to get invites.

Of course, our Final Four this year will probably be loaded with the trademark powerhouses: Duke, UConn, Illinois, LSU, Villanova, or George Washington. But we may be ten years away from an MVC team winning a national championship. That’s no mid-major accomplishment.

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