This sort of thing is right up my alley, and hey, it gives me something to do - pore over RPI rankings when they’re only beginning to become nearly meaningful - while I watch the Celtics work towards 16 straight.
(Note all of the qualifiers there. RPI rankings become more and more meaningful as the resumes become more and more complete, in most situations. The MVC may well be the exception to that rule, because in a very real way we need some way to judge the teams OUTSIDE of conference play - the RPI gets artificially inflated a little bit during MVC conference play, because of the schedule construction within the conference and especially the lack of a single truly abhorrent team: Rutgers, Penn St., Colorado, etc etc.)
Last year, the MVC got four teams in… and Bradley, the lowest ranked of the four, was the one to pull of the shiny upsets, while Wichita St. also reached the Sweet 16 by upsetting Tennessee. SIU got pounded and Northern Iowa lost a close game. So, basically, the MVC performed how you’d expect a top conference to perform in the NCAA tournament, and has most certainly arrived as a “legit” conference. Last year, it was legitimately a stronger conference than the Pac-10 in pretty much all ways. This year, it is just as good on average as about half of the “BCS” conferences - though I don’t really know that it can put forth any serious title contenders, for all that I respect SIU’s resume (as you will see).
SIU will obviously get in, and is legit. They have one bad league road loss, and a myriad of great wins, many on the road. They haven’t lost a home game yet this season. No promises about how they do once they get in, of course. They also have an excellent chance to make their resume look even better, with their next four games all against RPI top 50 opponents, including a huge game at Butler. If they win out and win the conference tournament, I could even rationalize a 2 seed here… I would expect something in the 4ish range if they lose 1-2 more games; the Butler game will be huge. If they win that, they have a serious resume even outside of all those conference games.
Creighton looks good to get in at this point… but I’m not nearly as impressed with them as with SIU, or even some of the teams below them. They lost all four of their non-conference road games, which is a huge warning sign. They have gotten hot since the conference season started, and barring collapse, will have such a gaudy record that in this conference they’ll be in almost by default. That said, I’d expect a seed in the 7-10 range, and to be very weary of their first-round matchup.
Missouri State beat Wisconsin at a neutral site. That alone will get them in if they are borderline. They did lose their only non-con road matchup that mattered (at St. Louis), and have had trouble at times in conference play. They’ll get in unless they collapse, but again, probably a 7-10 range seed and likely a first round underdog. That one win gives them a LOT of cred though, because if you can beat Wisconsin this year, you can beat almost anyone.
Bradley is where we start to see huge resume holes. They lost their two chances at top 50 RPI teams in the non-con schedule - including a truly atrocious blowout at Michigan St., which is itself a bubble team - and also lost at Tennessee Tech (140 currently). They have the advantage of an opportunity at VCU in the Bracket Busters, which they’ll almost have to win to get at-large consideration in my mind. On the other hand, they could lose that game but still finish 11-7 in the MVC going into the conference tournament, and many people would argue their side at 19-11 (11-7). I would not, unless they made the conference tournament finals. Too many holes for me.
UNI is in worse shape than Bradley. If you wouldn’t give a Big 10 team huge credit for a (likely more difficult, since conference games always are) win at Iowa (90), I don’t tend to think UNI should get huge props for it. That was their best non-con win, and it goes with losses at Washington (currently not on the bubble at all) and Loyola Chicago (123). Along with two losses against the MVC cellar-dwellers, I can’t see taking UNI as an at-large unless the field in general is… more lacking than it is right now. Their Bracket Buster matchup is at Nevada, which could be huge… but which I also can’t see them winning.
Wichita St. is actually the fun case. There’s a very real chance that they could finish 6th in the conference at 9-9. On the other hand, they’d also have 21 wins (if they win a home Bracket Buster matchup against Appalachian St.), and non-conference wins at LSU (which was playing much better then than they have been recently, even if their current RPI is virtually the same as that Iowa win I just discarded) and at Syracuse (a likely bubble team). If they can take one of their last two games - home vs. Missouri St. or away vs. Creighton - I frankly like their profile more than any of the other MVC teams other than SIU.
So basically, the MVC will (and should) get 3-4 teams in the tournament, depending largely on how they finish off their last half-dozen regular-season games and conference tournament. This will be respectable enough by the standards of the major conferences; the challenge is to make this the norm for the MVC, as opposed to year two of a two-year aberration. If you do it for long enough, you’ll get the respect in the seeds (see: Gonzaga).
The announcer who made the comment re: the 4 or more teams should also note that five of the six major conferences have more teams than the MVC. The MVC is currently 5th in conference RPI; 4-8 are all fairly close, with the Mountain West Conference in a very strong 8th-place showing. That particular standard might be a good argument to help the conference snag a 4th spot, but I really feel that it depends more on the resumes of the individual teams involved. My beloved Big East, for example, has virtually the same conference RPI as the MVC this year. Of course, the Big East has 16 teams (vs. 10 for the MVC), 11 teams that could be imagined into the bubble picture in some remotely reasonably way (vs. 6), and 4 teams that are worse than anything the MVC has to offer at the bottom of its conference to drag that RPI average down. So the Big East will almost certainly have a larger raw number of teams in than the MVC, and may well have a higher percentage of its teams in than the MVC, even if the MVC has a better conference RPI… but it may well all be justified if you look at how things actually stack up.
I’m a March Madness freak, if you couldn’t tell. …and it passed the time while the Celtics did the inevitable.