In 2005-2006, the Missouri Valley Conference had 6 teams in the top 41 of the RPI. The following year, they had 4. For the last three years they have had only one. The trend is unmistakable and alarming for the conference as a whole.
This year's version doesn't appear to be that much stronger either. Northern Iowa loses three key starters from their Sweet Sixteen team and while Wichita State and Missouri State seem to be on the rise, the conference doesn't seem to be more than a one-bid league at this point.
Maybe the expectations for the Valley have become too great. Or maybe the ebb and flow of Mid-Major conferences is just taking its turn. In either case, the trend downward could continue this season.
Ben Jacobsen has certainly earned his stripes as a top-notch college coach. Beating a one-seed in the second round tends to secure this, however, they were a very good team long before they met Kansas. This coming season will test him and his system as the Panthers try to get back to the big dance.
Cuonzo Martin has done well to get Missouri State back to the top and with his returnees should challenge for the the league title. Difficulties on the road in conference play last season marred what was otherwise a very good season.
Wichita State will be in the hunt as well for the league title. Though they are losing point man Clevin Hannah, they return enough weapons to be at or near the top of the conference.
Creighton has officially lost Dana Altman, who probably wishes he never met P'Allen Stinnett. This will be a year of transition for the Bluejays, one in which they won't challenge for the league crown.
Osiris Eldridge is gone from Illinois State, Bradley continues to overachieve (somebody please look at Jim Les), and the rest, well they are the rest. Drake, Indiana State, Evansville and Southern Illinois have much to do to be competitive on the national stage. It is especially painful to see the Salukis slide, and, after losing Kevin Dillard (transfer to Dayton) and Anthony Booker (transfer to Iowa State), 2010-2011 could be another long season for beleaguered coach Chris Lowery.
All in all, a league that was recently considered with the Big Six suddenly isn't so relevant.