MVC: The Peaking Valley

By - October 30, 2006

In 1997, the Atlantic 10 sent five teams to the NCAA tournament -- this coming just one season after Massachusetts became the first team in league history to advance to the Final Four. After a number of disappointing one- or two-bid seasons, A-10 made another strong showing in 2004, sending four teams to the field -- including a pair (Saint Joseph’s and Xavier) that advanced to the Elite Eight.

But while the league which Temple put on the national map during the ‘80s and ‘90s has enjoyed flashes of multi-bid brilliance over its three-decade history, sustained success from a conference point of view has eluded the A-10 over the years.

The MVC’s two longest-tenured coaches spoke Monday about the idea of building upon the unprecedented success enjoyed around the Valley in 2005-06 -- a season that saw the nation’s second-oldest conference send a record four schools to the NCAAs.

“The reason I think we’ll have a chance to stay there,” Indiana State coach Royce Waltman said, “is because we are that good.”

Creighton coach Dana Altman thinks a number of factors must come into play, but the league’s flourishing attendance figures, and competitive balance from top to bottom are no small considerations.

“Our league is really under-recognized with the attendance that we have. To recruit and do all the things we want to do for our program, we need money,” Altman said, noting that the Valley drew a league-record 1.2 million fans in '05-06. “Our attendance at our conference tournament has been outstanding for a long time. That money that’s generated through our attendance, gives us an opportunity. Those other leagues with smaller schools, they don’t draw like we do. They’re not even close. There are leagues above us that don’t draw like we do, and that gives us an opportunity.”

Altman also noted that many of the mid-majors that have sent three, four or five bids have been somewhat top-heavy in composition, and haven’t had the same kind of balance from the top of the standings through the bottom as the Valley.

“We’ve always had good teams at the top,” Altman said. “I think the difference in our league has come through the balance that we’ve been able to achieve. And when you look at the power rankings up and down last year, our schools -- No. 5, No. 6, No. 7, No. 8, No. 9 -- had good ballclubs. I think that the strength of any league is determined by how strong everybody is.

“If you go back the 12 years I’ve been here: We’ve had Tulsa who went to two Sweet 16s, Illinois State had a good run, Bradley had a good run. We’ve had some very good teams at the top but I don’t think we’ve had the balance that we have now.”

Posted by at 12:05 PM on October 30, 2006

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