When Creighton announced it was leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for membership in the Big East, some projected doom and gloom.
The Bluejays have consistently been the league's best team in recent years, with eight conference titles and nine overall trips to the NCAA Tournament since 1999. And when NIT (4), CBI (1) and CIT (1) bids are included, they have qualified for the postseason in each of those past 15 years.
Though fellow MVC member Wichita State—who starts the 2013-14 season as the 16th-ranked team in the nation—was the one who shocked the world with a Final Four trip in 2013, Creighton was the team that millions around the nation became familiar with seeing on their brackets come March.
But the Missouri Valley Conference is poised to survive and hold onto its mid-major status despite the loss of its most recognizable school. The attitude has been evident since the very day Creighton announced it was leaving, when conference commissioner Doug Elgin promised the league wasn't going to lick its wounds for too long.
“We’ll get past this,” said Elgin. “We’re going to move forward in much the same way Creighton is going to move forward.”
Elgin hearkened back to 1996, when Tulsa—one of the MVC's powerhouses of the time—announced it was leaving to join Conference USA. Not only did the conference survive, he reminded, it thrived—leading to an era during which every team in the conference would qualify for the NCAA Tournament in a 12-year span.
|Teams in NCAA Tournament from Missouri Valley Conference|
|Year||MVC Champion||At-Large Bid(s)||Deepest Run|
|2013||Creighton||Wichita State||Witchita State (Final Four)|
|2012||Creighton||Wichita State||Creighton (Round of 32)|
|2011||Indiana State||(none)||Indiana State (Round of 64)|
|2010||Northern Iowa||(none)||Northern Iowa (Sweet 16)|
|2009||Northern Iowa||(none)||Northern Iowa (Round of 64)|
|2008||Drake||(none)||Drake (Round of 64)|
|2007||Creighton||Southern Illinois||Southern Illinois (Sweet 16)|
|2006||Southern Illinois||Bradley, Northern Iowa, Wichita State||Bradley and Wichita State (Sweet 16)|
To replace Creighton, Loyola (Chicago) was granted membership beginning in 2013-14. The Ramblers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1985, when they advanced to the Sweet 16.
The remaining teams in the league believe that, even without Creighton, the MVC will be a force to be reckoned with on the college basketball landscape. During the conference's mid-summer coaches' conference call with media, coaches were quick to remind everyone the cupboards aren't left bare.
“I’m not excited that Creighton is leaving, but I’m excited about our league,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “We had a team that went to the Final Four...and it wasn’t Creighton. Our league is fine.”
“It’s good for all of us,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “(Recruits) know that Wichita is in the Missouri Valley and they know how good the league is.”
And, it's not as if Creighton's successes—or even Wichita State's Final Four run of a year ago—are the only highlights on the MVC reel in recent years.
Notably, Northern Iowa advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010, including a shocking upset of top-seeded Kansas. SIU made five straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2003-07, including a Sweet 16 run in 2007 as a 4-seed.
And in the 2006 tournament, the conference sent four of its 10 teams to the tournament, getting three coveted at-large bids—with two of the teams that earned those at-large bids, Bradley and Wichita State, advancing to the Sweet 16.
Meanwhile, the Bluejays' NCAA runs, even in years when they had promise as a sleeper, were always short. It has been the other teams in the MVC who have been able to catch lightning in a bottle. Now, they'll try to continue to do it outside of Creighton's shadow.